When it comes to the tablet market, it’s no surprise to learn the last quarter of 2012 was another record one, with a total of 52.5 million units shipped worldwide. Apple’s iPad once again took first place, although it slipped slightly to 43.6 percent market share. Samsung and Amazon grabbed second and third, respectively, but even their combined market share is below that of Apple.

The latest estimates come from IDC, which says the tablet market grew 75.3 percent year-on-year (up from 29.9 million units in 2011’s fourth quarter) and increased 74.3 percent from the previous quarter’s total of 30.1 million units. You can thank holiday sales for such huge growth. Rounding out the top five tablet makers were Asus, largely thanks to Google’s Nexus, plus Barnes & Noble:

tablets idc q4 2012 IDC: Apples iPad dropped to 43.6% tablet share in Q4, Samsung took second with 15.1%, Amazon third with 11.5% (Updated)

IDC attributes Apple’s lead in the market with 22.9 million units thanks to a strong iPad mini launch as well as availability of the fourth generation full-sized iPad. Although the company managed a 48.1 percent shipment growth over the same quarter last year, its market share declined for a second quarter in a row (down to 43.6 percent from 46.4 percent the previous quarter).

Meanwhile, Samsung swooped in to take advantage. The South Korean company experienced 263 percent year-on-year growth, shipping nearly 8 million combined Android and Windows 8 tablets during the quarter.

Amazon shipped more than 6 million tablets during Q4, increasing its share to 11.5 percent, up from 8.3 percent the previous quarter, with year-over year growth of 26.8 percent. Unlike Samsung, these were all Android tablets, as the company is betting all its money on its forked version of Google’s mobile operating system.

Speaking of Google, it looks like the company’s Nexus 7 tablets haven’t managed to help Asus, their manufacturer. The Taiwanese company saw its share slip from 7.8 percent to 5.8 percent despite what IDC says were “continued strong shipments” of Google’s 7-inch device.

In fifth place, Barnes & Noble shipped close to 1 million units, increasing its share to 1.9 percent, up from 0.7 percent. The company may not be an Amazon, but it clearly knows what its customers want.

The same can’t be said for Microsoft. IDC noted that the company entered the market during the past quarter with its Surface tablet running Windows RT, but failed to reach the top five after shipping just shy of 900,000 units. That may change once the Surface has a full quarter of availability, but it will still be difficult for it to crack the top three.

IDC has illustrated the last few quarters are in graph form:

idc q4 2012 IDC: Apples iPad dropped to 43.6% tablet share in Q4, Samsung took second with 15.1%, Amazon third with 11.5% (Updated)

As already mentioned, Q4 is a special quarter since it includes holiday sales. The real test for the six tablet makers mentioned above will be this one. We’ll see some big changes in 2013 as Apple does its best to cling on to first place, Samsung and Amazon battle for second, and Microsoft attempts to make its way into the top five.

Update on January 31: IDC’s link to its report now leads to a “We’re sorry, we were unable to locate the article you requested” error. It’s unclear if the press release has been pulled on purpose, and if so, why. It’s back.

See also – ABI: Nearly 200m tablets have shipped worldwide since 2009, 22% of US owners spend over $50 monthly and How the tablet market evolved in 2012: Apple, Google, Samsung, Amazon, and Microsoft go to war

Image credit: AFP/Getty Images