Global shipments of ‘smart devices’, comprising notebooks, tablets and smartphones, hit 309 million units in Q1 2013, with tablets the fastest-growing segment, according to research firm Canalys.

Total shipments of smart devices increased 37.4 per cent year-on-year.

Though tablets are the smallest of the three sub-categories, the 41.9 million units shipped during Q1 was an enormous 106 per cent leap compared with the same period the year before.

Smartphone shipments numbered around 216 million units for the quarter, a year-on-year growth of 48 per cent. As such, says Canalys, smartphones sales maintained their strong momentum seen throughout the last year.

Notebook PC shipments, however, which totaled 50.5 million units, saw another quarterly contraction (13 per cent). The biggest decline was in Western Europe, where shipments fell by 25 per cent on an annual basis.

In terms of platforms, Android continues to dominate, accounting for 59.5 per cent of all smart mobile devices shipped. Of the other OS vendors, Apple’s strength in the smartphone and tablet PC markets saw it accounting for 19.3 per cent share, says Canalys, while Microsoft’s 18.1 per cent share reflects its relative strength in the PC sector.

In the tablet space, however, Apple is still market leader (46.4 per cent share) but it did lose ground to Android-based rivals for the third consecutive quarter.

“Spearheaded by Google and Amazon, the commoditisation of the tablet market has happened far quicker than that of the wider PC market,’ said Canalys senior analyst, Tim Coulling.

Android-based handsets accounted for 75.6 per cent of total smartphone shipments during the quarter. Samsung dominated once again, growing its year-on-year volume by 64.3 per cent to command around a third of this market.

In contrast, Apple saw modest annual growth (6.7%) in its smartphone shipments. That’s the lowest level, says Canalys, since the launch of the original iPhone back in 2007.

“Despite its slowing growth, Apple still shipped over 37 million iPhones,” said Pete Cunningham, Canalys principal analyst. “But HTC and Samsung have raised the bar with their latest handsets and Apple needs to respond with its next iPhone. The iPhone user interface is now six years old and badly in need of a refresh.”

Hardware-wise, adds Cunningham, the biggest dilemma that Apple faces is what it does with the size of the display on the next iPhone. “It cannot afford to ignore the trend for larger displays in premium smart phones,” he said. “We expect an increase on the iPhone 5’s 4” display but are not anticipating a ‘Phablet’-style iPhone.”

Huawei, LG and ZTE complete the top-five smartphone vendors, but each have less than 5 per cent market share. Huawei and ZTE benefited from their strength in their home market, with 84 per cent and 71 per cent of their shipments, respectively, going to mainland China.