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Report: Android Tablets Gaining on iPad

A report by Strategy Analytics shows that sales growth of Android tablets outpaced that of the iPad in the fourth quarter of 2011, closing the gap between the two product lines. Apple's iPad now controls 58 percent of the tablet market, compared to 39 percent market share for Android.

The Android gains are credited to strong sales of devices made by Amazon, Samsung, ASUS, and others.

"Global tablet shipments reached an all-time high of 26.8 million units in Q4 2011, surging 150 percent from 10.7 million in Q4 2010," Strategy Analytics executive director Neil Mawston said. "Apple maintained its strong market leadership with 58 percent share during the fourth quarter of 2011. Apple shrugged off the much-hyped threat from entry-level Android models this quarter."

Shrugged off?

That's not what the numbers show. One year previous, iPad claimed over 68 percent of the market, but that figure fell to 57.6 percent in the most recent quarter, which was a record-setting quarter for Apple. Android tablets, meanwhile, surged from 29 percent in Q4 2010 to over 39 percent this past quarter.

Most would probably assume that Apple controls 90 percent of this market.

Looking at unit sales, Android tablet sales grew more than threefold, from 3.1 million units in the year-ago quarter to 10.5 million units this past quarter. Sales of Apple's iPad also grew, but at a slower pace, from 7.3 million units to 15.4 million in the most recent quarter.

As a footnote, sales of Microsoft-based tablets--i.e. those running Windows 7--actually rose too, from basically nothing to 1.5 percent of the market. That's about 400,000 units. As Strategy Analytics notes, "The upcoming release of Windows 8 this year cannot come quickly enough for Microsoft."

By the way, Strategic Analytics correctly disagrees that iPads (and apparently other tablets) should be counted as PCs, thus artificially elevating Apple's PC market share, which even Apple CEO Tim Cook noted this week has never risen out of single digit share worldwide. "No amount of ivory tower contemplation will persuade Apple's iPad customers they have bought a 'PC'," a note on the company's blog reads. Exactly so. 

And while it's almost inevitable that the line between PC and iPad will blur in the coming years, as I believe it will, that hasn't happened yet. Apple fans are probably very willing to accept Mr. Cook's assertion that the Amazon Kindle Fire, for example, somehow magically isn't competing with the iPad. But the differences between a PC and an iPad are even greater. Like Strategic Analytics, I'd say that there is indeed a comparison that can be made between all "general purpose computing devices." But that's not just tablets and PCs, it's "desktops, notebooks, netbooks, tablets, MIDs, smartphones, and a fair few TV set-top boxes and other devices as well."
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