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Android overtakes iPad in tablet race

tablets
The iPad Mini (right) and Amazon's new Kindle Fire HDX tablets

The iPad, long the best-selling tablet in the world, has received a check to its dominance: Android has taken the lead in both tablets sold and in the money people paid for them. Can Apple make a comeback, or is it doomed to stay in second place, like with smartphones?

The new numbers come from ABI research, which reports that the critical turnover took place during the second quarter of 2013. Android tablets overtook iPads in volume, and the total cash consumers handed over for tablets was split right down the middle between the two — whereas historically Apple has taken the lion's share of the money.

It's not good news for Apple by any stretch of the imagination, but the numbers do have to be given some context.

To begin with, no single manufacturer of tablets comes close to Apple in terms of volume. Android as a whole may sell more devices than Apple, but the ecosystem is split between the likes of Samsung, Amazon, Asus and others. The full-size iPad and the iPad Mini are still the best-selling models out there. Android may have slightly more of the pie, it has to be split more ways. 

Where money is concerned, it has to be considered that 2013 had Apple heavily promoting its lower-priced iPad Mini. ABI Research estimates that 60 percent of iPads sold in the spring quarter of 2013 were Minis, which had the effect of driving down the average amount paid per device.

But while those facts help make sense of the numbers, they don't make them disappear; Android has certainly taken the lead in a meaningful way. That said, the rumor mill is churning and a big iPad refresh is due next month. That could give Apple the boost it needs to regain first place.

Devin Coldewey is a contributing writer for NBC News Digital. His personal website is coldewey.cc.