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Tablet makers shipped a record 52.5 million slates last quarter (4Q12), a 75.3 percent increase over the 29.9 million units that hit the market in the fourth quarter of 2011, according to market research firm IDC. Compared to the previous quarter (3Q12), tablet shipments shot up 74.5 percent.
An uptick in holiday spending helped the market reach record levels. IDC also credits lower prices and more tablet options as drivers.
IDC research director, Tom Mainelli, said in a statement, "We expected a very strong fourth quarter, and the market didn't disappoint. New product launches from the category's top vendors, as well as new entrant Microsoft, led to a surge in consumer interest and very robust shipments totals during the holiday season."
While strong demand for tablet means boom times for mobile device makers, it spells a murky future for PC makers. "The record-breaking quarter stands in stark contrast to the PC market, which saw shipments decline during the quarter for the first time in more than five years."
Apple continues to lead the market with its popular iPad, a product line that the company reinvigorated late last year with the release of the fourth generation iPad and the iPad Mini. But there are signs that its grip on the crown is starting to slip.
The company shipped 22.9 million iPads in 4Q12, a 48.1 percent jump, year-over-year. IDC notes that Apple's market share has slipped for the second quarter in a row, from 46.4 percent in 3Q12 to 43.6 percent last quarter.
Samsung claimed second place with 15.1 percent of the market and 8 million Android and Windows 8 tablets shipped. The company achieved a staggering 263 percent growth rate compared to the same year-ago period.
Kindle and Nook brightened the holidays for Amazon and Barnes & Noble, respectively. Amazon shipped over 6 million Kindle tablets, pushing its share of the market to 11.5 percent from 8.3 percent in 3Q12 and handily beating fourth place Asus (3.1 million units). Barnes & Noble nearly shipped a million Nook tablets to claim 1.9 percent of the market and the number five spot.
Despite a splashy debut, Microsoft's Surface RT failed to help the software giant crack the list of the top five tablet vendors.
Nearly 900,000 Surface RT tablets where shipped during the fourth quarter of 2012. IDC program manager Ryan Reith believes that premium prices is hurting Surface's chances in this competitive market.
"We believe that Microsoft and its partners need to quickly adjust to the market realities of smaller screens and lower prices. In the long run, consumers may grow to believe that high-end computing tablets with desktop operating systems are worth a higher premium than other tablets, but until then ASPs [average selling prices] on Windows 8 and Windows RT devices need to come down to drive higher volumes," he said.