During the first quarter of 2013 (1Q13), the tablet vendors shipped more computing slates than in the entire first half of 2012, according to IDC's preliminary findings.
In total, global tablet shipments reached 49.2 million units in 1Q13, a 142.4 percent increase over the same year-ago period. And the industry has the explosive popularity of small tablets to thank.
Apple, while its share of the tablet market dipped substantially from 58.1 percent in 1Q12 to 39.6 percent in 1Q13, is riding high on the strength of its iPad mini. "Sustained demand for the iPad mini and increasingly strong commercial shipments led to a better-than expected first quarter for Apple," said IDC research director Tom Mainelli in a statement.
Last quarter, Apple shipped 19.5 million iPads compared to 11.8 million units in 1Q12, a 65.3 percent increase. IDC originally forecast that the Cupertino, Calif.-based device maker would ship 18.7 million units during 1Q13.
Apple further benefited from good timing. "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," added Mainelli.
Small slates also helped second-place Samsung's Android-based tablet line outperform. The South Korean electronics giant shipped 8.8 million tablets in 1Q13, a 282.6 percent rise over 1Q12's performance, for 17.9 percent of the market.
The company's successful Galaxy smartphone product line provided a boost as well. "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," said IDC.
ASUS scored third place with shipments of 2.7 million units followed by Amazon with 1.8 million. Somewhat fittingly, Microsoft bookended the top five.
Apple's historic rival managed to claw its way to the fifth spot thank to its Windows 8/RT Surface tablets. IDC estimates that the company shipped 900,000 Surfaces during the first quarter, many of which were of the Pro variety, the x86 version that runs the full Windows 8 desktop edition. Surface Pro launched well into the quarter on Feb. 9.
IDC noted that, Surface aside, Windows 8/RT offerings from other vendors "continued to struggle to gain traction in the market." Including Microsoft, shipments reached just 1.8 million during the first quarter, indicating that Redmond claims roughly half of the Windows tablet market.
Ryan Reith, IDC Mobility Tracker program manager, warned that smaller Windows tablets won't necessarily improve matters.
"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," asserted Reith in company remarks.
Pedro Hernandez is a contributing editor at Datamation and InternetNews.com. Follow him on Twitter @ecoINSITE.