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iPad sales dented more by iPhone 4S than Kindle Fire, says research firm

Amazon’s Kindle Fire tablet may have made a strong debut but it appears sales of the iPad are being dented by another device – the iPhone 4S.

Research firm IHS iSuppli looked at global tablet sales for the last three months of 2011 and found that while Amazon’s new 7-inch tablet may have nibbled away at iPad sales, it was Apple’s latest iPhone iteration, launched last October, which has had a bigger impact.

Despite Apple shifting 15.4 million iPads in the fourth quarter, up from 11.1 million in the third, IHS iSuppli said the figure was lower than what had been expected.

“Shipments of the iPad line fell short of IHS estimates in the fourth quarter as many loyal Apple customers devoted their dollars to shiny new alternatives,” IHS iSuppli’s Rhoda Alexander said.

She continued, “However, the primary alternative wasn’t the Kindle Fire — which debuted to solid sales in the fourth quarter — but Apple’s own iPhone 4S smartphone.”

Alexander said that the introduction of Apple’s new iPhone “generated intense competition for Apple purchasers’ disposable income,” and did more to limit iPad sales than competition from other tablets.

Amazon, however, will be heartened by the strong start made by its Kindle Fire tablet. From a zero share of the market in the third quarter – it launched in November — the device has already leapfrogged the next best selling tablet after the iPad (Samsung’s Galaxy Tab) to take a 14 percent share of the market in the fourth quarter, having sold 3.8 million units. And this for a tablet currently only available in one country — the US. Samsung sold 2.1 million tablets in the three-month period, taking an 8 percent share of the market.

“The long-term viability of the [Kindle Fire] will hinge on the success of Amazon’s business gamble, which depends on tablet sales driving substantial new online merchandise sales at Amazon.com in order to attain profitability,” Alexander said.

Apple still leads the pack with its iPad, but with a reduced share of the market. Shifting 15.4 million units in the fourth quarter gave it an impressive 57 percent share, though that’s down from 64 percent in the previous quarter.

Will Apple be worried by the $199 Kindle Fire’s strong start? Judging from comments made by the Cupertino company’s CEO earlier this week, not a bit. Tim Cook zeroed in on the device’s competitive price tag, saying, “A cheap product might sell some units. Somebody gets it home and they feel great when they pay the money, but then they get it home and use it and the joy is gone.”

Attempting to rub it in even more, he added, “The joy is gone every day that they use it until they aren’t using it anymore. You don’t keep remembering ‘I got a good deal!’ because you hate it!”

Sales of the iPad will no doubt receive a boost with the launch of the iPad 3, which could happen as early as next month. Meanwhile it’ll be interesting to see what Amazon comes up with when the second iteration of its Kindle Fire tablet is released, whenever that happens, and whether another company can come up with something truly remarkable to properly take on the iPad.

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