Samsung was the key beneficiary of a strong Q4 for tablet sales, which saw the Korean electronics manufacturer double its market share while Apple's lead in the sector slipped once again, according to research by IDC.
Worldwide tablet shipments exceeded expectations, reaching a record 52.5 million units in the last three months of 2012. Year-on-year tablet market growth was up 75 per cent compared with 2011 and up 74 per cent from the previous quarter.
Apple once again led the field, shipping almost 23 million tablet devices in 2012 including the iPad and iPad Mini, but despite year-on-year growth of 48 per cent in Q4, Apple actually saw its market share drop to 43.6 per cent. It represents the second quarter in a row Apple's share of tablet sales has come in under 50 per cent.
It was Samsung that benefited most from Apple's loosened grip, cornering a 15.1 per cent share of the market with 7.9 million shipments of devices such as the Galaxy Tab during 2012. It's a massive growth spurt of 263 per cent on 2011 when Samsung held just 7.3 per cent of the tablet market.
The growth in tablet sales has been put down to lower prices, wider choice and an increased demand over Christmas.
Behind Apple and Samsung, Amazon has an 11.5 per cent share of the tablet market, up over a quarter on the previous year, and in Q4 shipped six million devices. Asus and Barnes & Noble complete the IDC list of the top five vendors for worldwide tablet shipments - which presumably includes figures for e-readers.
Conspicuously absent from the list is Microsoft, which entered the tablet race in the final quarter of the year. The firm failed to reach the top five vendors after less than a million devices were shipped.
"There is no question that Microsoft is in this tablet race to compete for the long haul. However, devices based upon its new Windows 8 and Windows RT operating systems failed to gain much ground during their launch quarter, and reaction to the company's Surface with Windows RT tablet was muted at best," said Ryan Reith, programme manager for Mobile Device Trackers at IDC.
"We believe that Microsoft and its partners need to quickly adjust to the market realities of smaller screens and lower prices," he argued.
"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," Reith added.
Civica CTO John Hood recently spoke to Computing about Microsoft's Surface RT tablet, describing the device as "a bit of a lemon".