New figures from market analysis firm IDC suggest Apple’s seeming stranglehold on the tablet market may already have been broken by Android: the firm’s sales figures for the fourth quarter of 2011 find iOS devices — e.g., the Apple iPad — accounted for a mere 54.7 percent of the global tablet market, down from 61.6 percent in the third quarter of the year. IDC attributes this decline in Apple’s dominance of the tablet market to the success of Android devices, in particular Amazon’s Kindle Fire. IDC says Android’s share of the media tablet market rose from 32.3 percent in the third quarter of 2011 to 44.6 percent in the fourth quarter.
“Amazon’s widely-reported entry into the media tablet market with a $199, 7-inch product seemed to raise consumers’ awareness of the category worldwide despite the fact that the Fire shipped almost exclusively in the U.S. in the fourth quarter,” said IDC research director Tom Mainelli, in a statement.
IDC does note that Apple managed to ship 110.5 percent more tablets in the fourth quarter of 2011 than they had in the year before; however, IDC puts the overall growth in the media tablet market at 155 percent year-on-year.
Perhaps the key phrase in IDC’s analysis is the phrase “media tablet.” This includes not only things like the iPad, Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1, and Motorola Xoom priced at $499 on up (which many consumers are increasingly turning as replacements for personal computers and notebooks), but also encompasses things like the Barnes & Noble Nook Tablet and entry-level Android devices like those from PanDigital, which can start as low as $120 and are often essentially e-readers and media players with basic Web browsing and app capability. Devices like the iPad are increasingly being reviewed as PC replacements — indeed, if iPads count as PCs, Canalys now ranks Apple is now the world’s biggest PC maker. It’s debatable whether high-end tablet devices like the iPad and Motorola Xoom (with their advanced hardware and broad app and content ecosystems) should be compared with pared-down, feature-and-performance-limited devices just because they share a form factor and an ability to display media.
Nonetheless, if IDC’s figures are accurate Amazon’s Kindle Fire has had a strong launch. Amazon never reveals sales figures for its Kindle line, but IDC reckons Amazon sold 4.7 million Kindle Fire tablets during the fourth quarter of 2011, which is enough to rocket the device into second place with 16.8 percent of the worldwide market for the quarter — impressive since the bulk of those sales were limited to the United States. Samsung managed a third-place finish with 5.8 percent of the worldwide tablet market (a Samsung exec has admitted the company is “not doing very well” at tablets), while Barnes & Noble actually saw its share slide from 4.5 percent to 3.5 percent. (Although to be fair, Barnes & Noble’s Nook line is currently limited to the United States.) PanDigital came in fifth with 2.5 percent of the market.
While Android may account for 44.6 percent of “media tablets” sold in the fourth quarter of 2011, it and iOS seem to be the only games in town. BlackBerry saw its share slide from 1.1 percent to 0.7 from the third quarter to the fourth quarter, and HP’s cancelled-and-now-open-source webOS dropped from 5 percent of the world market to nothing.