There is no doubting the fact that Microsoft has grand plans for its Surface slates. The company seems to have outlined an ambitious new strategy even as it streamlines its retail channels around the globe.

But while the software titan is busy bringing the first generations Surface slates to a number of important worldwide markets, word is that it is also preparing new Surface units that are set to see daylight later this year.

More details on these smaller and affordable Surface tablets are expected at the BUILD developer conference, late next month.

Nevertheless, the tablet market is growing at an impressive pace — the latest forecasts have put it at the point where notebooks might be outsold this year by these tablets, even with a slow second quarter of the year for the mobile devices.

And now ABI Research has shared its predictions for the year. It appears that Apple will finally be outsold by makers of Android tablets. In other words, the company will end 2013 with less than 50 percent of the tablet market.

Senior practice director Jeff Orr over at ABI Research said:

“It’s inevitable that Android tablets will overtake iOS-powered slates, though we see no single vendor challenging Apple’s dominance anytime soon.

With media tablets commercially available for more than 4 years, momentum is shifting toward value and affordability, putting tablets in more of the population’s reach.”

This is a remarkable development, indeed — but one that provides Microsoft and its partners a perfect opportunity to strike. There is a myriad of Android tablet makers, sure, but vendors that produce and sell tablets powered by either Windows 8 or Windows RT also add up to an impressive number.

Now, obviously the invention of the sub $200 tablets has tipped the sales figures.

But this is something that Microsoft can play to its advantage. Rumors of affordable Windows tablets that retail for $250 and above have been floating about for a few months now. And if Redmond (and its partners) can crack this magical figure, we may be in for some rather interesting times.

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