As Apple brings its next-generation iPad to market this Friday, it is being met by worldwide consumer and business enthusiasm for the platform that just keeps outpacing estimates. IDC says that worldwide device shipments in the category totaled 28.2 million in the last quarter of 2011, up 56.1% from the previous quarter and representing a massive increase of 155% from Q4 2010. The momentum is impressive, IDC says, and it is raising its 2012 targets appreciably, from an earlier forecast of 87.7 million units to 106.1 million.
Apple maintained its overwhelming dominance of the market, 54.7% off of 15.4 million units in Q4. Nevertheless, Amazon shipped an estimated 4.7 million Kindle Fires to reach a 16.8% market share and shave Apple’s slice down from 61.5% in the previous quarter. Amazon’s entry into the market, although limited to the U.S. in late 2011, seemed to raise the profile of the tablet category around the world. “Products across the pricing spectrum sold well, including everything from Apple’s premium-priced iPads to Pandigital’s line of Android-based, entry level tablets [starting at $120],” says Tom Mainelli, Research Director, Mobile Connected Devices, IDC.
In fact, despite negative hype surrounding other Android tablets, Samsung actually increased its share of shipped tablets from 5.5% to 5.8% in Q4. Barnes & Noble also introduced the Nook Tablet, which helped the bookseller sell more tablet units but still lost market share, from 2.9% to 2.5%.
Apple’s diminished market share is to the benefit of the only major rival, Android. Mainelli sees a scenario in tablets echoing somewhat the evolution of smartphones. Apple will remain the leading single vendor of tablet hardware for the foreseeable future. Still, Amazon’s Kindle Fire success represents the leading edge of an ongoing trend. “The sheer number of vendors shipping low-priced Android-based tablets means that Google’s OS will overtake Apple’s in terms of worldwide share by 2015,” says Mainelli. iOS-based tablets will continue to lead revenue in the category at least through 2016, however.
IDC may not be the only one to see the tablet market evolving toward economy Android products. According to recent reports from Asian supply sources, Apple is working on a smaller-sized, lower-priced iPad version (likely between 7 and 8 inches) for possible release in late 2012. The late Steve Jobs had famously mocked the half-sized Android tablets that were hitting the market last year for their poor user experiences. According to Jobs and Apple, smaller screen sizes than the iPad diminish the effectiveness and versatility of the touch interface and enhance the fat finger syndrome. If Apple does indeed release the rumored 7.8-inch iPad for holiday 2012, CEO Tim Cook will have to walk back some of that reasoning.