Android tablets overtake pricey iPads in latest popularity contest

Android, iPad tablet sales 2014
Google's got a sweet-tooth hold on the tablet market

As phones go, so do tablets. In other words, Android tablets handily became more popular than their iPad counterparts for the first time, according to new data today.

A total of 120.9 million people snubbed the iPad Air and iPad mini 2 with Retina display last year in order to pick up one of the many tablets that runs Google's dominant operating system.

These worldwide sales numbers gave Android tabs a 61.9% market share in 2013 after having just 45.8% of the tablet pie in 2012, according to market research firm Gartner.

Buyers were interested in low-end smaller screen tablets, suggested the firm, which perfectly describes the inexpensive 7-inch duo of the Samsung Galaxy Tab 3 7.0 and Google Nexus 7.

iPad numbers

Apple's 7.9- and 9.7-inch hardware still sold a combined 70.4 million with a market share of 36%. That's up from the 61.4 million sold in 2012, but down from its previous 52.8% market hold.

The company remains the No. 1 tablet maker if the sales and market share are broken down by individual tablet manufacturer, with Samsung and Asus in second and third.

Apple also has the excuse that its redesigned full-sized iPad Air and smaller iPad mini 2 only launched in November of last year. The new mini was actually in short supply, too. Still, the iPad Air's starting price of $499 (£399/AU$598) and the iPad mini 2's $399 (£320/AU$479) likely aren't doing the tablets any favors.

Contrast that to Samsung and Google's pint-sized slates. Both the Tab 3 7.0 and Nexus 7 launched in July, giving them an almost four-month head start.

iPad and Android tablet sales are trending toward the numbers we see from their phones. Android-powered nearly 80% of smartphones in 2013, while Apple's iOS clung to just 15%, down from 20% a year ago.

Can Apple turn it around?

Apple might have a few tricks up its sleeve when it introduces the iPad Air 2 and iPad mini 3.

We could see a bigger screen via the rumored iPad Pro and Bluetooth mouse support to match what users like about the extra-large business-friendly tabs like the Samsung Galaxy Note Pro 12.2.

Touch ID could make the inevitable phone-to-tab transition and Apple sure has to do something with that sapphire glass factory. A tougher screen and wireless charging are on a lot of peoples' wish lists.

More than anything, the sales trend could tempt Apple to release a cheaper iPad to compete. Rather than a plastic tablet akin to the iPhone 5C, a price cut could turn things around.

Matt Swider