Windows Makes Move From Back in Tablet Race

TabletsThere’s a stat in horse racing called “closing speed,” which quantifies how well a horse that starts slow makes up ground. While it’s far too early to tell if Microsoft Corp. can ever really be a contender in the tablet market, its Windows 8 OS seems to be making an impressive move from the back of the pack.

According to new data from Boston-based market research firm Strategy Analytics, Windows has gone from a dead stop — 0 percent global tablet market share — in the first quarter of last year to nearly 7.5 percent in Q1 of 2013 on the strength of 3 million units shipped worldwide. It’s a small but impressive uptick considering the underlying market numbers, which show a record 40.6 million tablets shipping globally last quarter, a huge increase over the 18.7 million that shipped in the same period last year.

The bump still puts Microsoft in distant third place behind powerhouse tablet OS leaders Apple Inc. and Google Inc., which are neck-and-neck for the lead. Apple’s iOS retained its top position in units shipped and market share, but the race is narrowing and Google’s Android is coming on strong.

Apple iOS was shipped on 19.5 million tablets last quarter, up from 11.8 million in Q1 last year. That’s nothing like the surge Android enjoyed, however, jumping from 6.8 million to 17.6 million in the same period.

In terms of market share, Apple dropped from 63.1 percent in Q1 2012 to 48.2 percent last quarter, just barely ahead of Android, which climbed from 34.2 percent to 43.4 percent. And that was just in branded tablet shipments, according to Peter King, who heads tablet research at Strategy Analytics. Add in all of the white-box tablets shipped globally, and Android’s market share rises to 51 percent while iOS declines to 41 percent.

For the purposes of Strategy Analytics’ research, white-box tablets are defined as those produced with less expensive components by an ODM that other companies rebrand to make it appear as if they made it.

“The bulk of the white-box tablets are Android low-budget models aimed at a different market to the branded tablets,” King said, adding that overall “demand for tablets among consumer, business and education users remains strong.”

With the continued market optimism and the notable advances of Microsoft’s much-maligned tablet efforts, perhaps it’s time to reconsider the early dismissal of Redmond from this contest. Windows in a wheel bet, anyone?