Worldwide tablet sales jumped in the fourth quarter beyond even some of the most optimistic forecasts to 52.5 million, with Android-powered devices pacing growth, a survey has found.
The preliminary survey by business research firm IDC showed the tablet market grew 75.3 per cent year on year in the quarter, and rocketed 74.3 per cent from the previous quarter's total of 30.1 million.
IDC said the strongest growth came from Android, including tablets made by South Korea's Samsung and Taiwan's Asus, which makes a Google-branded Nexus tablet.
Apple remained the biggest seller, but its market share was under 50 per cent, IDC said.
The survey found that Microsoft, which launched its new Surface tablet in the quarter, failed to break into the top five sellers and shipped a modest 900,000 of the devices in the quarter.
Overall, the market's strong gains came from a spate of new product launches, including the iPad mini, and lower prices, which encouraged buyers over the holiday shopping season, IDC said.
"We expected a very strong fourth quarter, and the market didn't disappoint," said IDC analyst Tom Mainelli.
"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's iPad held its top position with 22.9 million units shipped. That was up 48 per cent from a year earlier, but lower than overall market growth.
As a result, Apple's market share declined for a second quarter in a row to 43.6 per cent from 46.4 per cent in the third quarter.
Samsung, the No.2 vendor, saw year-on-year growth of 263 per cent, selling 7.9 million tablets and grabbing a 15.1 per cent market share.
IDC said Amazon, which does not provide its own sales data, delivered some six million tablets in the quarter to retain its spot as the No.3 vendor.
That represented 26.8 per cent growth, giving Amazon a market share of 11.5 per cent, IDC said.
Fourth place belonged to Asus, which sold 3.1 million tablets, year-on-year growth of more than 400 per cent. That gave the Taiwan-based firm a 5.8 per cent market share.
Barnes & Noble sold one million of its Nook tablets and accounted to 1.9 per cent of the market, the survey found.
IDC analyst Ryan Reith said Microsoft will need to shift its strategy to compete better in the tablet market.
"There is no question that Microsoft is in this tablet race to compete for the long haul," he said, calling the market reaction to Surface "muted".
"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 (selling prices) on Windows 8 and Windows RT devices need to come down to drive higher volumes."