It's been pretty clear Apple owns the tablet computer market so far, selling 4 million iPads since its launch in April. Research firm Strategy Analytics confirmed that perception today, releasing new data showing Apple had 95.5% of the tablet market worldwide as of the third quarter. Yep, that qualifies as owning the category.
Android-based devices, made by generic manufacturers, accounted for just 2.3% of tablet shipments in the quarter. Apple's huge lead over the Google platform in tablets stands in contrast to Android's explosive growth in smartphones, where it made up 44% of sales in the third quarter compared to 23% and 22%, respectively, for Apple's iOS and RIM's BlackBerry OS, according to data released Monday by NPD Group.
But Strategy Analytics pointed out the iPad's dominance will be challenged by heightened competition in the coming months. The biggest early threat will be Samsung's Android-powered Galaxy Tab, with Sprint, T-Mobile USA and Verizon Wireless set to start selling the 7-inch tablet this month. RIM, HP, Dell and Motorola are among other manufacturers scrambling to catch up with Apple in the tablet market.
RIM, for instance, plans to launch its 7-inch Playbook tablet early next year. And Michael Dell, speaking at an event in Hong Kong, said Dell would launch a "significant number" of tablets next year. "What happened to Dell's 7-inch Looking Glass tablet that was coming in 'a few weeks' now more than one month ago?" wondered Engadget in a post today. Yes, lots of promises from device makers to date but not much to show in the way of actual hardware. And Dell in particular hasn't had much success in selling handheld devices.
Aside from outside competitors, though, one interesting question is whether Apple's own newly introduced 11-inch Mac Air might cannibalize iPad sales at all. The new Mac Air models (and Mac OS X Lion) borrow features from the iPhone and iPad including the FaceTime video chat application and "instant-on" capability.
The price gap between the Mac Air, which starts at $999 and the $499, 10-inch iPad is probably wide enough to avoid significant overlap. But right now, it looks like the iPad's only real competition.Clarification: 4.2 million iPads were sold during Apple's fiscal fourth quarter.