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Android Gains Ground On Apple In Tablet Race; Microsoft Still Struggling

Gartner says Android is now king of the tablet OS, while Microsoft barely makes a dent with Surface.

Android tablets are quickly leaving Apple's iPads in the dust as the Google-centric tablets now account for 61.9 percent of sales in 2013, compared with 36 percent for Apple, Gartner reports. Meanwhile, tablets running the Windows 8 operating system designed for mobile devices have seen sales grow an anemic 1.1 percent, representing total sales in 2013 of 2.1 percent of the tablet market share.

Worldwide tablet sales, according to Gartner, grew 68 percent in 2013, with growth attributed to the popularity of the low-end, smaller-screen tablet market and first-time buyers, Gartner said. Sales of Apple's iOS dropped 16.8 percentage points while Android jumped 16.1 percent.

Gartner's worldwide tablet report measured sales of tablets to "end users" -- which excludes business and institutional sales. Gartner reported tablet sales reached 195.4 million units in 2013.

Related: Strong Surface Sales Help Microsoft Beat Wall Street's Holiday Quarter Forecasts

Apple is still top dog when it comes to tablet sales by one company, selling 36 percent of all tablets. Samsung came the closest to matching Apple's domination of the tablet market, with 19.1 percent of all sales, followed by Asus, with 5.6 percent, and Amazon, with 4.8 percent.

From the enterprise vantage point, iOS still rules the roost, said Mike Carper, founder and senior adviser at Signature Mac, a Fort Wayne, Ind.-based VAR that specializes in Apple products.

"Customers may ask about Apple versus Android handsets, but with tablets in the workplace, it's a no-brainer. Our customers stick with iPads," Carper said. "iOS is easy to deploy and maintain. Microsoft's mobile platform has an advantage, such as running Office, but the trade-off of juggling the same Windows security as the desktop is a deal-breaker."

Microsoft, whose second-generation Surface tablets running an updated version of the Windows 8 mobile OS went on sale Oct. 22, failed to make a significant dent in the tablet landscape, according to Gartner.

Gartner analyst Roberta Cozza, research director, wrote: "To compete, Microsoft needs to create a compelling ecosystem proposition for consumers and developers across all mobile devices, as tablets and smartphones become key devices for delivering applications and services to users beyond the PC."

Allen Falcon, CEO of Cumulus Global, a Westborough, Mass.-based, cloud-focused solution provider and Google Apps partner, said interest in Android tablets is up with his customers, estimating about two-thirds of his customers are kicking the tires on Android tablets and expressing interest in expanding their Android devices to include handsets to tablets.

"As the Android OS grows in relevance outside the enterprise, we are seeing more and more of our customers ask about and move to Android tablets. The beautiful thing about Google is it's platform-agnostic and works perfectly with iOS, Android or Microsoft's Surface tablets."

In January, Microsoft cited strong Surface sales as a contributing factor in beating its fourth-quarter Wall Street revenue expectations. Surface revenue came in at $893 million for the quarter, more than double what Microsoft reported in the first quarter, the first in which it broke out Surface sales.

The Surface and Surface Pro 2 tablets have a larger foothold in the corporate environment because companies like to standardize on one platform, said Mika Kitagawa, principal research analyst at Gartner. "The biggest problem for Windows tablets in the enterprise is that many companies still haven't upgraded from Windows 7 to Windows 8.1. Once they do, they might give Surface or a Windows tablet a try."

"Tablets are a brutal business for solution providers. It doesn't matter if it's Microsoft, Android or Apple. From my point of view, we focus less on tablet hardware and more on the server and storage solutions that these tablets connect to," said Todd Swank, director of product marketing at Equus, a Microsoft partner based in Minnetonka, Minn. Swank said the tablet challenge is adding value to commodity tablets with razor-thin margins. "In the enterprise, the market doesn't look any different today than it did a year ago. I don't see much changing in 2014 either."

Kitagawa said that iOS is still the dominant OS in the business. "Tablet usage is based on applications. There are not enough tablet-friendly Windows apps to justify the jump to a Surface. Plus, Android isn't secure enough on the tablet. That leaves iOS, which is the OS of choice for most companies."


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