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As Samsung Edges Out Apple, Who Will Win the Battle for Third Place in the Mobile Market? [UPDATED]


There are three contenders and at least one wildcard entry in the battle for 2013 tablet sales.

If you're keeping up with the latest stats, you know that Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) is no longer the top seller of "smart connected devices." Apple was edged out for the top spot by Korean electronics maker Samsung (PINK:SSNLF), according to newly-released figures for all of 2012. With both companies expected to show continued strength this year, the real question is, who will be No. 3 for 2013.

We're not talking about crumbs for losers here. According to the report, from International Data Corp., or IDC, device shipments in 2012 totaled 722 million smartphones, a year-over-year increase of 46%, and 128 million tablets, an increase of more than 78%.

Sales of desktop PCs and laptops declined slightly in the same period. IDC points out that the comparison is not entirely fair, since mobile devices are considerably cheaper and are replaced more often.

In 2012, Chinese electronics producer Lenovo (PINK:LNGVY) was a distant No. 3, but the distinction was nothing to brag about. There are so many brands in both smartphones and tablets that the category of "Other" actually outsells Apple and Samsung combined.

So, it's by no means too late for some other device to catch the attention of fickle consumers. And just about all of them are in Barcelona this week to show off their latest at the Mobile World Congress.

Here are three new devices that are getting serious attention there, for better or worse:
  • Sony's (NYSE:SNE) Xperia Tablet Z is looking like an early favorite at the high end of the market. Sony has struggled for attention for so long that it's hard to remember it was once renowned for its beautiful design of everyday objects. That may have boosted the "wow" factor when it brought out the Xperia Tablet Z this week. Early reviewers are using words swiped from fashion coverage, like "svelte" and "sexy." A CNN reviewer calls it "freakishly thin and impossibly light." At 1.09 pounds and 0.27 inches thick, it is considerably lighter and skinnier than Apple's iPad.
Oddly, it's also waterproof. For what market segment? Olympic-class swimmers? Migratory Pacific salmon?

Whoever they are, the Google Android-based Xperia Z will cost them precisely the same as an Apple iPad: $499 for the 16 GB version or $599 for 32 GB.
  • Hewlett-Packard (NYSE:HPQ) raised eyebrows with a new tablet, the HP Slate 7, but it wasn't the specs that caused the stir. Aimed at the low end of the tablet market and priced at just $169, the Slate 7 is the kind of no-frills box that makes the tech press go "meh." That doesn't mean it won't appeal to consumers, if only because it costs $30 less than Google's own low-end Nexus 7, and Amazon's (NASDAQ:AMZN) low-end Kindle, both priced at $199.
The fact that the Slate 7 will run on Google's (NASDAQ:GOOG) Android operating system raised a flurry of speculation that HP is at the very least hedging its bets on Microsoft's (NASDAQ:MSFT) rival Windows 8 operating system. At worst, suggests that HP is implicitly walking away from its Windows 8 ElitePad, which is priced at $650, by introducing a rival tablet at a fraction of the price.

HP's official line is that the Android Slate 7 is its consumer offering, while the Windows 8 ElitePad is an enterprise model. That might even be true, since HP had already publicly dissed the low-end version of Windows 8 software, called Windows RT.
  • Now about that market leader, Samsung. It's going straight for the Apple iPad Mini market with the Galaxy Note 8. The device was not unveiled so much as teased in Barcelona, with pricing and specs still unknowns. But the sneak peak was enough to give the impression that the Galaxy Note 8 is designed to look, feel, and operate just like the company's popular Galaxy line of smartphones, in a marginally larger 8-inch form.
Given the enormous competition and stakes, the 2012 figures might not tell us much about 2013. One wildcard is the enterprise market, which sooner or later is going to make a big impact on sales by choosing which device or devices it buys and supports. Collectively, those businesses employ about 200 million professionals worldwide.

A recent Forrester Research survey suggests that the employees, if they have a choice, would just as soon stick with Microsoft. Its survey of nearly 10,000 information workers found that the vast majority do not currently use a tablet for business. But if and when they get one, more want a Microsoft Windows 8 tablet than an Apple tablet, and Google's Android comes in a distant third.

On the other hand, the Windows 8 phone barely registers as an option. Apple's iPhone still rules the category.

Editor's note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that Samsung topped Apple in 2012 in sales of both smartphones and tablet devices in 2012. In fact, Apple maintained its leadership in sales of tablet devices. Samsung topped Apple and all other brands in overall sales of "smart connected devices," according to the report from IDC. That is, Samsung led in combined sales of desktop PCs, portable PCs, tablets and smartphones. Combined sales for Samsung totaled 250 million, and totaled 218.7 million for Apple.

Also see: Will Consumers Accept Google Glass and the Privacy Issues It Raises?
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