Tablet shipments totaled 49.2 million units in the first quarter of 2013, surpassing that of the entire first half of 2012, with growth fueled by increased market demand for smaller screen devices, according to preliminary data from the International Data Corporation (IDC) Worldwide Quarterly Tablet Tracker.
Worldwide tablet shipments continue to surge, growing 142.4 percent year over year in the first quarter of 2013, and the market shows no signs of slowing down. Even Apple, which historically has experienced a steep drop off in first quarter shipments following strong holiday sales in the fourth quarter, outperformed IDC's most recent projections for the quarter, shipping 19.5 million units compared to a forecast of 18.7 million units.
"Sustained demand for the iPad mini and increasingly strong commercial shipments led to a better-than-expected first quarter for Apple," Tom Mainelli, research director of tablets at IDC, said in a statement. "In addition, by moving the iPad launch to the fourth quarter of 2012, Apple seems to have avoided the typical first-quarter slowdown that traditionally occurred when consumers held off buying in January and February in anticipation of a new product launch in March."
Second-place finisher Samsung also performed above expectations and managed to grow its shipments over the fourth quarter as more of the company's smaller-size tablets began to gain traction in the market. Samsung has also used its recent Android smartphone growth to help bring its tablet product line into new markets and channels, leveraging the opportunity to package and bundle, the report noted.
The company recently announced its latest tablet: the Galaxy Tab 3, which runs Google's Android Jelly Bean 4.1 operating system and boasts a 7-inch display. A WiFi version of the Galaxy Tab 3 will be available globally beginning in May, and a 3G version will follow in June, although product availability will vary by market and will be rolled out gradually.
Amazon fell to the No. 4 position, once again the victim of a highly seasonal product cycle, despite the popularity of its Kindle line of tablets, while Asus, enjoying the success of the Google-branded Nexus 7 tablets, moved into third place. For the first time, Microsoft entered the top five as shipments of its Surface RT and Surface Pro tablets combined for a total of nearly 900,000 units. Many of those units were Surface Pro, which the company started shipping to the U.S. and Canada in February, the report noted.
"Recent rumors have circulated about the possibility of smaller screen Windows RT and Windows 8 tablets hitting the market," Ryan Reith, program manager for IDC's Mobility Tracker program, said in a statement. "However, the notion that this will be the saving grace is flawed. Clearly the market is moving toward smart 7-8 inch devices, but Microsoft's larger challenges center around consumer messaging and lower cost competition. If these challenges are addressed, along with the desired screen size variations, then we could see Microsoft make even further headway in 2013 and beyond."
However, beyond the Surface products, Windows 8 and Windows RT tablets continued to struggle to gain traction in the market. Total combined Windows 8 and Windows RT shipments across all vendors reached 1.8 million units, according to IDC.