Gartner: Microsoft sells more tablets in 2013, still lags far behind Android, iOS

Microsoft sold more than double the tablets last year than it did the year before but still wound up with just 2.1% of total sales, according to Gartner.

Windows 8/8.1 likely had a lot to do with that since devices with the operating system were available throughout the entire 2013 calendar year, but did not become available until October of 2012. That means most of Microsoft's numbers for 2012 were based on Windows 7, which is not optimized for tablets.

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During the same period unit sales of Android tablets also more than doubled but went from 45.8% market share to 61.9%. Apple iOS devices seemingly took a big hit when you look at market share it fell from 52.8% to 36%. But because the tablet market as a whole grew 67.9%, iOS device shipments actually increased, Gartner says.

Low-end, small screen tablets to new buyers accounted for most of the increase in sales, helping out Android devices the most.

While Apple lost overall market share, its iPad remained strong among high-end tablets. "Apple's approach will continue to force vendors to compete with full ecosystem offerings, even in the smaller-screen market as the iPad mini sees a greater share" says Roberta Cozza, research director at Gartner.

Microsoft is doing the right thing in trying to engage tablet users in cloud services accessible from tablets and phones, Gartner says. "To compete, Microsoft needs to create a compelling ecosystem proposition for consumers and developers across all mobile devices, as tablets and smartphones become key devices for delivering applications and services to users beyond the PC," says Cozza.

As for Microsoft's own Surface devices, they didn't even register on the Gartner charts, being lumped in with the 31% of tablets that were made by "others."

There may be hope, though, for the Surface Pro 2, which has the full functionality of a PC laptop but in the shape of a tablet with an add-on keyboard/cover. Such devices in 2014 will appeal to both consumers and enterprises, Garner says. "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 says. 

Tim Greene covers Microsoft and unified communications for Network World and writes the  Mostly Microsoft blog. Reach him at  tgreene@nww.com and follow him on Twitter@Tim_Greene.

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