Microsoft's Surface is the lone bright spot in a poor tablet market

Overall tablet sales are slumping, except for Surface, thanks to good hardware and Windows 10.

Microsoft Surface tablet sales Windows 10 tablets

Microsoft didn't get off to a great start with the Surface tablet, coming late and confusing the market with the RT and x86 versions. But its legendary patience is once again paying off, in that Windows 10 tablets are the one bright spot in tablet sales.

The latest statistics from market research firm Strategy Analytics showed the overall tablet market dropped by 11% in the last quarter when compared to the same period in 2014, with iPad sales in particular falling 25% and Android tablets down 7%.

Windows tablets, however, grew by a very impressive 59%. At least part of that is likely due to the fact that Surface had so much room to grow, while the iPad market was more mature. But even with that caveat, that's still good news for Microsoft.

Peter King, research director for Strategy Analytics’ tablet and touchscreen strategies service, said in a statement, "Apple suffered big setbacks this year as a lack of innovation during the last several years caught up to iPad sales. Instead, Apple has focused on its MacBooks, iPhone 6/6+, and Apple Watch releases. The launch of the iPad Pro failed to meet expectations during the quarter."

He's not wrong there. The iPad has been somewhat forgotten. It hasn't been relegated to Apple TV status, but updates seem to be based on making it thinner and putting a new Ax chip in it. Other than that, the iPad has not changed much since it was introduced, and right now it's really missing Steve Jobs, who was its greatest advocate.

The Surface tablet, on the other hand, sold very well throughout the year, and various other Windows 10-powered slates also experienced success.

Eric Smith, Strategy Analytics senior analyst for tablet and touchscreen strategies service, said the Q4 launch of Surface Pro 4 and Surface Book was met with many "Surface clones by Microsoft's OEM partners at lower price points. This variety of devices will bolster momentum of Windows Tablets going forward."

Another interesting stat was that 2-in-1 tablet shipments grew at an astounding 379%, although Strategy Analytics says this is coming on top of a small base and "cannot make a major directional difference for the wider tablet market yet."

Surface is enjoying a higher profile. It got some bad publicity when there were reports of Surface malfunctioning during the New England Patriots/Denver Broncos playoff game, but Microsoft would later attribute the problem to the network, not the tablets. It had a better showing at the Super Bowl and post-game.

Surface tablets are also prominently featured in the new Fox series "Lucifer," thanks to "promotional consideration provided by Microsoft," according to the end credits. The other term for that is product placement. The police officers in the show all use Surface tablets, and the camera shows the product name clearly, plus there are Surface advertisements during commercial breaks. Just keep in mind that this is a TV show where the main character is the Devil. Make your own jokes.

The Surface tablet has the advantage of the huge Windows library of applications, plus a company really behind it. I get the feeling the iPad and Android tablets are secondary products in the eyes of their vendors and not part of a real strategic push, while Microsoft is investing much more into the Surface tablet. Which is really strange because they are letting their phone die on the vine.

Join the Network World communities on Facebook and LinkedIn to comment on topics that are top of mind.

Copyright © 2016 IDG Communications, Inc.