Even as the iPad grows, Apple loses ground

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IDC’s quarterly report about tablet market share was published Thursday, and its findings show Apple is still the biggest tablet maker in the world, as of the end of the fourth quarter of 2012. But when compared to previous quarters and to its competition, its growth is slipping. And that partly explains why, despite Apple selling the most iPads ever in its history, investors are worried that Apple isn’t long going to be able to hold off the likes of Samsung and Asus.

Here’s IDC’s Quarterly Worldwide Tablet Tracker study for tablets shipped between October and December 2012:

IDC tablet shipments in 2012Q4

Apple, as you can see, is by far the world’s biggest tablet brand, shipping 22.9 million iPads during Q4. Samsung is a distant second, selling about a third as many. But it’s the rate of growth of these iPad competitors, more than the absolute number of tablets shipped, that is astounding: Samsung held a 7.3 percent share of the tablet market during the last quarter of 2011; it’s more than doubled that to 15.1 percent a year later. Meanwhile, Asus, which is down in fourth place, had a 2 percent share at the end of 2011, and it grew its shipments at a rate of more than 400 percent in the last year.

How long can Apple stay ahead?

The iPad just turned three years old; it is by far the most established brand on this list. So 48 percent growth, not to mention 22 million iPads in one quarter, is still very good. But this table also reveals that while Apple is still growing, it is losing ground. Its tablet market share was about 52 percent at the end of 2011 — a year later it’s at 44 percent.

This is not unexpected. The iPad is not the iPod — Apple is not going to hold a 70-plus percent share of the tablet market for a decade.┬áBut the current strategy isn’t dissimilar: For the first time, Apple released two new 9.7-inch iPad models in the same year, and introduced the iPad mini. The mini was clearly a market share play — Apple doesn’t want to cede sales of the increasingly popular smaller tablet market to competitors. The latest, high-end 128GB iPad is yet another way to bring in buyers at an even higher price point who have more specific needs for a tablet.

Just as we’ve seen in the smartphone business, while Apple’s figured out the best way to profit off of its tablet strategy, that isn’t necessarily synonymous with remaining the most popular brand.

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