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The British are coming! The British are coming! And they're buying Surface fondleslabs

Microsoft shifts up a gear, straight into, er, fourth place

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In a small corner of the IT industry, Microsoft is toasting a success of sorts: its relatively unloved Surface tablet is gaining customers and has unseated Google's Nexus slabs in the popularity stakes in the UK.

Shipments of all fondleslabs into retailers and distributors in Blighty swelled 20.4 per cent, year on year, to 2.15 million units during the opening quarter of 2014, data from number crunchers Canalys shows.

Behind that rise, the growth rate is slowing; this points to relatively high stock levels in the distribution channel, and indicates double-digit rises will become rare beasts.

But while Apple and Samsung continued to shift the most tabs to the general public and businesses, just ahead of Amazon, a certain little known slab slinger from Redmond snuck into the fourth spot for the first time.

Microsoft flogged 71,540 units in the quarter, up 27.1 per cent on a year earlier, to grab a 3.3 per cent market share. Some 58 per cent of these units were of the ARM-powered RT version with the Intel Surface Pro comprising the rest.

Canalys senior analyst Tim Coulling reckons channel partners helped Microsoft shift more devices, but added that weakness in consumer spending was hitting the Surface less dramatically than others.

"There is more of a commercial opportunity for Surface," he told The Channel, "plus Microsoft has a channel programme and is putting units into Authorised Device Resellers (ADRs)".

The Surface Pro 3 will be available to order from distributors in June but won't hit the streets until August. No ADRs other than those already on board will be given rights to sell the next generation, Microsoft told us.

Apple accounted for 34.4 per cent of the slab arena in Blighty, even though unit sales into the channel declined 4.1 per cent to 742,000 as the company reacted to the post-Chrimbo sales slow down by lowering inventory.

Second-placed Samsung ploughed 653,000 Galaxy tabs into the channel, leaving distributors stuffed to the gills. Canalys said it expects Sammy to have stocking issues in subsequent quarters.

The South Korean giant continues to ship heavily into the UK but it is not clear how many of these products will be paid for in full by consumers as opposed to being given away as part of a promo or heavily discounted.

The sales chasm between the second and third-placed vendors widened in Q1 with Amazon tablet shipments growing below the market average at 14.1 per cent. Coulling said the business was hit by higher competition from lower priced rivals at a time Amazon is trying to drive more expensive devices.

Relegated to fifth spot by Microsoft, Google struggled to gain traction, with sales dropping nearly 80 per cent to a little over 42,000 units. This may be that the product was refreshed in the third-quarter when there was a sales peak, said the analyst.

Acer declined 40 per cent to 40,000 units, and Asus declined 44 per cent to 33,000 units as both suffered from the slowdown in consumer tab purchases. ®

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