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Small, Low-cost Tablets Drive Demand, Push Android Ahead of iOS

Shoppers are voting with their dollars for smaller, cheaper tablets. Market research firm IDC says that the popularity of tablets with screen sizes of 7 to 8 inches will move Google's Android ahead of Apple's iOS by a small margin for the first time ever in the slate market.

IDC predicted that worldwide tablet shipments for 2013 will be 190.9 million, up 11 percent from earlier estimates. It's not just this year that sees an increase, through:.On average, IDC says, between 2014 and 2016 tablet shipment forecasts have increased by 11 percent as well. Total worldwide shipments will be upwards of 350 million units by the end of 2017.

According to IDC, one in two tablets shipped in the first quarter of 2013 was between 7 and 8 inches. That's no surprise, considering the momentum of Apple's 7.9-inch iPad Mini launched last fall. Meanwhile, at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, the new major releases from ASUS (Fonepad) and Samsung (Galaxy Note 8.0) fell squarely in this newly favored size range, along with HP's forthcoming but unimpressive first foray into Android tablets, the HP Slate 7.

Not surprisingly, Android tablets' market share is growing over iOS. IDC expects that Android's market share will hit 48.8 percent in 2013, up 18 percent from the original forecast. And Apple's share is expected to fall below 50 percent for the first time in 2013, hitting an inglorious second place behind Android with 46 percent market share.

Android's growth can likely be attributed to the strength of Android 4.1 Jelly Bean. Apple's stumble may reflect a growing sense of stagnation with iOS—and, of course, the increased competition and lower prices of its Android-based competitors.

Windows 8-based tablets aren't a threat now, capturing just 1 percent of the market in 2012. Not shocking, of course, given Windows 8's late October release. But the snail's pace growth of Windows 8 tablets should be worrying for Microsoft and its PC OEMs entering this space. IDC's forecast shows Windows tablets will grow to just 7.4 percent by 2017. And Windows RT's irrelevance seems sealed with this study: Through 2017, IDC expects Windows RT to represent less than 3 percent of the overall market.

Another victim of tablets' success: eReaders. IDC says it expects eReaders to “grow modestly” this year and next, while the category will enter a permanent decline starting in 2015.