Worldwide shipments of tablet computers reached a record total of 52.5 million units worldwide in Q4 2012, reported International Data Corporation (IDC) based on preliminary data in IDC’s Worldwide Quarterly Tablet Tracker. The tablet market grew 75.3% year over year in Q4 2012 (up from 29.9 million units in Q4 2011) and increased 74.3% from the previous quarter’s total of 30.1 million units.

As expected, Apple’s iPad again led the market, shipping 22.9 million units, a 48.1% increase in shipments year over year. This growth was fueled by a strong iPad mini launch plus availability of the fourth generation full-sized iPad. Despite this growth, Apple’s tablet market share declined to 43.6% from 46.4% last quarter — as a result of competition in the market. Number-two vendor Samsung experienced 263% year-on-year growth, shipping nearly 8 million combined Android and Windows 8 tablets during the quarter to grab 15.1% of the market.

Chart: IDC Top 5 Worldwide Tablet Vendors, Q4 2012

IDC Top 5 Worldwide Tablet Vendors, Q4 2012

Amazon and Barnes & Noble, numbers 3 and 5, respectively, among the top 5 tablet vendors in Q4 2012, both experienced strong gains in market share resulting from new product releases in that timeframe. Number-four tablet vendor Asus saw its share decline from 7.8% to 5.8% despite continued strong shipments of its Google-branded Nexus 7 tablet and the highest year-over-year increase in the top five at 402.3%.

Surface: Lower Pricing Will Drive Higher Volumes

Microsoft, which entered the tablet market in Q4 2012 with its Surface with Windows RT tablet, did not reach the top five, shipping just under 900,000 units. Commenting on Microsoft standings in the report, Ryan Reith, program manager, Mobile Device Trackers at IDC, suggested that Microsoft re-evaluate its pricing strategy for Surface and perhaps the device’s form factor as well. “There is no question that Microsoft is in this tablet race to compete for the long haul…. 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 ASPs on Windows 8 and Windows RT devices need to come down to drive higher volumes.”