Apple, Samsung Lead Strong Worldwide Tablet Sales: Gartner

In 2013, the share of Apple's iOS dropped 16.8 percentage points as the market demand was driven by the improved quality of smaller, low-cost tablets.

Worldwide sales of tablets to users reached 195.4 million units in 2013, a 68 percent increase on 2012, according to a report from IT research firm Gartner.

Tablet growth in 2013 was fueled by the low-end, small screen tablet market and first time buyers. This led Android to become the top tablet operating system (OS), with 62 percent of the market.

"In 2013, tablets became a mainstream phenomenon, with a vast choice of Android-based tablets being within the budget of mainstream consumers while still offering adequate specifications," Roberta Cozza, research director at Gartner, said in a statement. "As the Android tablet market becomes highly commoditized, in 2014, it will be critical for vendors to focus on device experience and meaningful technology and ecosystem value — beyond just hardware and cost — to ensure brand loyalty and improved margins."

While sales of iOS tablets grew in the fourth quarter of 2013, iOS's share declined to 36 percent in 2013. In 2013, the share of Apple's iOS dropped 16.8 percentage points as the market demand was driven by the improved quality of smaller, low-cost tablets from branded vendors, and white-box products continued to grow in emerging markets.

The report noted emerging markets, where low-cost tablets are more attractive to a population with a more conservative budget, recorded growth of 145 percent in 2013, while mature markets grew 31 percent.

In 2013, Microsoft's tablet volumes and share improved. However, despite Microsoft acting more rapidly to evolve Windows 8.1, its ecosystem still failed to capture consumers' interest.

"To compete, Microsoft needs to create a more compelling ecosystem story for consumers and developers of its tablets," Cozza. "Microsoft enjoys better shares in ultramobiles that are more productivity oriented, where its partners are ramping up new form factors and designs."

From a vendor perspective, Apple's strong fourth quarter helped it to maintain the top position in the market in 2013. Archrival Samsung ranked second and exhibited the highest growth of the worldwide tablet vendors, at 336 percent, in 2013.

The report noted the expansion and improvement of its Galaxy tablet portfolio, together with strong marketing and promotions, helped Samsung shrink the gap with Apple.

In line with its smartphone approach, Samsung’s over-segmentation of its tablet portfolio helped it to offer a wider size and price choice but also helped it to test the water and find niches.

Among the vendors that have a less than 6 percent share of the worldwide tablet market, Lenovo did particularly well in 2013 with tablet sales growing 198 percent.

Gartner also said it expects replacement buyers to upgrade to hybrid ultramobiles that will be introduced into the market during 2014, satisfying users who no longer want to deal with owning multiple devices or who want to keep up with the latest computing trend.

"There is an opportunity here for hybrid ultramobiles to marry the functionality of a PC and a tablet, and they will also prove to be an attractive alternative replacement product among businesses," Cozza said. "Hybrid ultramobiles attracted users' attention because the keyboard offers better use of productivity applications and benefits from a tablet form factor."