State of the Tablet Market: 3 Takeaways

By now, it's clear that anyone who thought tablets were a fad is dead wrong.

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By now, it’s clear that anyone who thought tablets were a fad is dead wrong.

According to IDC, tablet makers shipped 49.2 million units during the first quarter of 2013, for an increase of 142 percent over the same period a year ago. PC sales, meanwhile, are down to 76.3 million units shipped. At this rate, it’s safe to assume tablets will overtake PCs by the end of the year.

IDC’s figures aren’t gospel, because for the most part they aren’t based on official numbers from hardware vendors. But as a general sense of what’s going on, they provide us with a few interesting takeaways:

Apple Isn’t In Tablet Trouble

Percentage-wise, Apple’s tablet shipments aren’t growing as quickly as the competition. Samsung, for instance, enjoyed 283 percent year-over-year growth. Asus’ shipments went up by 350 percent, while Amazon’s shipments went up by 157 percent. Apple’s growth? A mere 65 percent. The difference led CNet to wonder whether Apple is “losing its edge” to other tablet makers.

No, it’s not. For one thing, the numbers for Apple represent sales to end users, rather than shipments, so it’s possible that the company has shipped many more units than IDC’s figures let on. Even if we ignore that discrepancy, iPad “shipments” increased by 7.7 million, compared to 10.6 million for the next four tablet makers combined. And most of those companies only boosted their market share by sacrificing profits and selling tablets for dirt-cheap–something Apple hasn’t done to nearly the same extent. Other tablet makers are addressing a part of the market that Apple hasn’t, but that doesn’t mean they’re eating Apple’s lunch.

Amazon Isn’t Destroying Android

Just like last year, Amazon’s tablet shipments dropped off big time after the holidays, with just 1.8 million Kindle Fires shipped, compared to 6 million in Q4 2012, but it’s not as bad as it looks. Shipments don’t equal sales to end-users, and as NPD analyst Stephen Baker pointed out a year ago, Amazon tends to ship lots of units during the holidays, and then sell them to customers throughout the following quarter.

Still, over the last two quarters combined, Amazon only shipped about 7.8 million tablets. That’s less than half as many as Samsung, and only a couple million more than Asus. The introduction of a larger Kindle Fire HD 8.9 and lower pricing for the basic Kindle Fire did little to boost Amazon’s market share.

Amazon uses a heavily-modified version of Android, with its own app store, which led several pundits to predict that the Kindle Fire would be a serious threat to Google’s ecosystem. Thanks to Samsung and Nexus tablets, plain old Android seems to be doing just fine.

PC Makers Are Getting Shut Out

When you compare the top tablet makers to the top PC makers, the only point of overlap is Asus, and the only reason Asus is on the tablet leaderboard is because it manufactures the Nexus 7 on Google’s behalf.

PC makers have failed to make the transition for a lot of reasons, but the overriding reason is that selling a tablet is not at all the same as selling a laptop. Being successful doesn’t just require good hardware, it also requires differentiated software (not to be confused with bloatware), ultra-competitive prices and tons of advertising. PC makers aren’t known for any of those things, and it’s hard to see how that’ll change.