ipad_miniPricing and functionality are the focal points for tablet shoppers around the world, a shift that benefits Google and its Android mobile operating system more so than Apple’s iOS-based iPad line, according to ABI Research.

Though Apple remains the single dominant player in the tablet market its share of worldwide media tablet shipments shrank to 50% as of end 1Q13, and “the Android ecosystem is poised to overtake iOS,” ABI says.

“It’s inevitable that Android tablets will overtake iOS-powered slates, though we see no single vendor challenging Apple’s dominance anytime soon,” senior practice director Jeff Orr elaborated. “With media tablets commercially available for more than 4 years, momentum is shifting toward value and affordability, putting tablets in more of the population’s reach.”

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The China market, where the Apple brand is prized, is the key variable for Android, according to ABI. That said, 7-inch Android tablets have become popular in China, “though most lack the Google suite of apps and Android Play marketplace.

“A push for sub-$200 tablets is keeping Android relevant in both developed and emerging markets,” ABI says. Average selling prices (ASPs) and tablet size “have been moving down-market since Android tablets starting honing in on the opportunity in 2012. Rather than trying to unseat Apple in the 10”-class space, tablet vendors sought a defensible area they could win, the result is the 7”-class devices.”

Apple responded with its own 7.9-inch iPad mini, which experienced supply and manufacturing constraints in 4Q12. But in 1Q13 Apple was able to eliminate its backlog and get back on the company’s typical 4-6 weeks of sales channel inventory while recording its second-best ever quarter for total iPad shipments, ABI said.

The iPad mini accounted for 49% of units and 39% of Apple’s overall iPad revenues, according to ABI. “Expect iPad minis to become the predominant iPad model after the June quarter,” Orr said.

For more, check out ABI’s Media Tablets, Ultrabooks & eReaders Research Service.

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