Tablet OS Sector Still Unsettled

Carl Weinschenk
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Awkwardness surrounds the reporting of sales of Android-based devices versus the rest of the usual OS suspects. Android is used by any number of devices while the other OSes are tightly tied to their owners’ gadgets.

That comes to mind every time a big or small milestone is reached. Last week, Gartner released research that said Android-based tablets for the first time outsold iPads. And it wasn’t even a squeaker: During 2013, Android held 61.9 percent of the tablet market compared to 36 percent for iOS (Microsoft held 2.1 percent). That is a huge change from 2012, when iOS held 52.8 percent and Android 45.8 percent.

The other big news out of the study is the continuing explosion of interest in the sector. In 2013, about 116.35  million tablets were sold. Last year, the number climbed to almost 195.5 million, a 68 percent increase.


Motley Fool’s Daniel Kline took a look inside the tablet OS numbers, as they say on ESPN. He offered some reasons that Apple receded. Essentially, the change occurred because iOS-based tablets are high-end devices and Android lower end. This reality drives trends both in developed and emerging economies toward the lower end. Though its slice of the pie is still compatible with a strict diet, Kline suggests that Microsoft’s sales of 4 million devices, compared to 1.2 million in 2012, suggests that it could become a factor.

There is a feeling that tablet growth has hit its high water mark. IDC weighed in last week as well and said the stratospheric growth rate for tablets in 2013, 51.6 percent, would slow to a 19.4 percent growth rate this year. Furthermore, that growth rate was reduced by 3.6 percent from preliminary predictions. The reasons for the reassessment were easy to understand and probably fueled the initial conclusion that the rate of acceleration was slowing:

The reduction in the short-term forecast was due to slowing consumer purchases as hardware iterations slow and the installed base—particularly in mature markets—continues to grow.

IDC suggests that the slowdown among consumers will lead to an uptick in the percentage of tablets bought by businesses. The business slices of the pie in 2013, 2014 and 2018 will be 11 percent, 14 percent and 18 percent, respectively. IDC expects this to help Microsoft’s efforts.

A lot is still up in the air as tablets begin what seems to be a long-term return to earth. At Computerworld, Preston Gralla blogs about where Microsoft may fit in. It is possible, he writes and others report, that Microsoft will begin enabling Android apps to run on devices its OS powers and selling them in the Windows Store and Windows Phone Store. That would alleviate the problem of a scarcity of Windows Phone apps. There could even be dual-boot Windows Phone/Android devices in the future.

The futures of BlackBerry and the lesser-known OSes, such as Sunfish, Ubuntu, Tizen and the Firefox OS (if they have futures) are still up in the air. The bottom line is that the tablet operating system sector is still in flux.



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