IDC reported today that Google Android usage has “surged” and that the mobile platform is poised to eclipse Apple’s once dominant iPad. Apple’s share of the tablet market plunged to 50 percent in the third quarter of 2012, IDC says, while Android has leapt to 46 percent.

“Apple saw growth slow as consumer, commercial, and education shipments declined, and rumors of a forthcoming iPad mini began to heat up," IDC research director Tom Mainelli said in a report about tablet market share. “We believe a sizable percentage of consumers interested in buying an Apple tablet sat out the third quarter in anticipation of an announcement about the new iPad mini ... However, we believe the mini's relatively high $329 starting price leaves plenty of room for Android vendors to build upon the success they achieved in the third quarter.”

Indeed, Android’s ascendance in the tablet market appears to be buoyed largely by the sale of smaller, 7" tablets like the Amazon Kindle Fire and Kindle Fire HD, and the Google Nexus 7. Previous to the release of these devices, Apple controlled over 65 percent of the tablet market.

That said, Apple still dominates other tablet vendors, selling 14 million of the 28 million tablets that were sold overall in the quarter. Second-place Samsung accounted for just 5 million units, with Amazon (2.5 million) and ASUS (2.4 million) rounding out the only volume sellers in this market.

Amazon’s growth is particularly impressive when you consider that this firm wasn’t even fielding a tablet entry in the year-ago quarter. It has jumped from nowhere to 9 percent market share and a third-place finish in less than nine months.

Looking ahead, a number of factors could put the current quarter up for grabs. Apple, of course, has launched a new iPad mini to take on the low-end Android challengers and has relaunched its standard iPad with slightly revised innards. Amazon has recently launched a 7" Kindle Fire HD, but a full-sized 8.9" version is shipping this month. And Google just launched a new line of Nexus devices, including a 4.7" Nexus 4 smartphone, a 7" Nexus 7 tablet, and a 10" Nexus 10 tablet.

And then there’s Microsoft and its ecosystem of PC market and device partners. The one-time software giant launched a Windows RT version of the Surface tablet, its first-ever tablet PC, to mixed reviews in late November, and of course many of the hardware makers are selling, or will soon sell, Windows 8 and Windows RT tablets of all kinds.

But IDC issued a warning that echoes my own concerns about the Surface and other Windows 8/Windows RT devices: The prices are just too high. “Price points are critical in tablets,” IDC’s Ryan Reith noted. “And Microsoft and its partners will have a tough time winning a share of consumer wallets with price points starting at $500.”