Tablet Sales Rising, Thanks to Smaller Sizes, Lower Prices: IDC

Android-based tablets expanded their share of the market notably in 2012, and IDC said it expects that trend to continue in 2013.

Tablet shipments will exceed 350 million by the end of 2017, due to a predicted surge of smaller, lower-priced devices in the market, according to the latest forecast update of IDC's "Worldwide Quarterly Tablet Tracker."

The research firm raised its 2013 forecast for the worldwide tablet market to 190.9 million from its previous forecast for the year of 172.4 million units. Increases in tablet shipments have been made throughout the forecast period, with an average annual increase of 11 percent between 2013 and 2016, the IDC report noted.

Longer term, Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android platforms will eventually relinquish some market share to Windows-based tablets, with Windows 8 predicted to grow from 1 percent of the market in 2012 to 7.4 percent in 2017. However, IDC said it expects Windows RT growth to remain below 3 percent during the forecast period.

"Microsoft's decision to push two different tablet operating systems, Windows 8 and Windows RT, has yielded poor results in the market so far," Tom Mainelli, IDC research director for tablets, said in a statement. "Consumers aren't buying Windows RT's value proposition, and long term we think Microsoft and its partners would be better served by focusing their attention on improving Windows 8. Such a focus could drive better share growth in the tablet category down the road."

Android-based tablets expanded their share of the market notably in 2012, and IDC said it expects that trend to continue in 2013. Android's share of the market is forecast to reach a peak of 48.8 percent in 2013, compared with 41.5 percent in IDC's previous forecast. Android's gains come at the expense of the iOS platform, which is expected to slip from 51 percent of the market in 2012 to 46 percent in 2013. Smaller form factors are also expected to play a role in the growth of tablet sales in the near future.

"One in every two tablets shipped this quarter was below 8 inches in screen size. And in terms of shipments, we expect smaller tablets to continue growing in 2013 and beyond," Jitesh Ubrani, an IDC analyst, said in a statement. "Vendors are moving quickly to compete in this space as consumers realize that these small devices are often more ideal than larger tablets for their daily consumption habits."

While the forecast for tablet sales continues to be revised upward, the outlook for e-readers is not looking nearly as bright. The growth of low-cost tablets is clearly damaging the prospects of the single-use e-reader, and IDC reduced its forecast for the category by an average of 14 percent between 2013 and 2016.

The company said it believes e-reader shipments peaked in 2011, at 26.4 million units. After declining to 18.2 million units in 2012, the category is expected to grow only modestly in 2013 and 2014, before it begins a gradual and permanent decline beginning in 2015.