Market research firm Strategy Analytics has released tablet shipment numbers for the first quarter of 2013. The overall market continues to expand, with shipments of branded tablets growing to 40.6 million units—more than doubling the 18.7 million units from Q1 last year. Apple's iPads continue to make up the bulk of the market, but their share slipped to 48.2%, down from 63.1% a year ago. Android-based devices made up 43.4% of the market, up from 34.2% last year, while Windows carved out a 7.5% share.
Those figures refer to branded tablets and don't include some low-cost Android devices, Strategy Analytics says. The firm doesn't reveal much about these so-called "white-box" tablets, which are "aimed at a different market to the branded tablets," but I suspect it's referring to all those cheap Android tablets that have popped up on eBay. When white-box sales are included in the calculations, Android's market share grows 52%, and iOS drops to 41%. If my math is correct, about 7 million white-box tablets shipped in Q1. That means the ultra-budget machines made up 28% of the Android tablet market as a whole.
Windows tablets exist at the opposite end of the spectrum, and this was the first full quarter for devices based on Win8 and its RT cousin. Strategy Analytics doesn't differentiate between the two operating systems, which combined for 3 million tablet shipments. That's a relatively small piece of the action overall, and Strategy Analytics blames "very limited distribution, a shortage of top tier apps, and confusion in the market." I suspect the lack of low-cost Windows tablets is hurting Microsoft's share, as well. The apparently strong sales of white-box Android devices and low-end tablets like the Nexus 7 and iPad Mini suggest demand is high for inexpensive machines.
Microsoft is reportedly prepping a 7" Surface, and leaked specifications have revealed the existence of an 8" Acer tablet running Windows 8. Systems like those could be key to expanding Windows' share of the tablet market. It will be interesting to see where Windows sits at this time next year and how Android and iOS share the rest of the market.