Android Tablets Gain on Apple IPad in Fourth Quarter

Google Inc.’s Android software boosted its share of tablet computers almost 10-fold in the fourth quarter, narrowing the lead of Apple Inc.’s iPad, market researcher Strategy Analytics said.

Android devices captured 22 percent of global tablet shipments in the three months to Dec. 31, up from 2.3 percent in the preceding quarter, the Boston-based researcher said in a statement today. The iPad accounted for 75 percent of shipments in the period, down from about 95 percent, it said.

Apple’s iPad, which has sold more than 14.8 million units worldwide since its introduction in April, faces intensifying competition from Android tablets made by Samsung Electronics Co., Motorola Mobility Holdings Inc. and Acer Inc. Google gives away Android for free to boost revenue from services such as mobile advertising and expand the market for its search engine.

A wider range of cheaper devices with Google features like YouTube and Google Maps will probably erode the iPad’s market dominance, said Neil Mawston, director at Strategy Analytics. Its share of the global tablet market will probably drop to 67 percent this quarter, he said.

The cheapest version of the iPad, which only has Wi-Fi connectivity and 16 gigabytes of memory, costs $499 in the U.S. Acer plans to introduce an Android powered tablet in April that will likely sell for as little as $299, Jim Wong, Acer’s head of information-technology products, said in November.

"Apple’s volumes will continue to go up, but market share will inevitably go down," Mawston said in an interview. "Even at $500 retail, based on some of the research we’ve done, that’s probably two or three times more than what most mass market consumers are expecting to pay."

Expanding Market

Android tablets will further pare Apple’s lead in the first half of 2011, Strategy Analytics predicts.

"If you were to ask me in two years time, will Apple have less than 50 percent of the global tablet market, I think that’s a certainty," Mawston said.

Apple shipped 7.3 million tablets in the fourth quarter, a 74 percent gain from the previous three-month period, according to the report. Shipments of Android devices jumped to 2.1 million units from about 100,000, it said.

Research firm ISuppli, a unit of IHS Inc., forecasts 57 million tablets will be sold this year and 171 million in 2014.

A separate report today, from research firm Canalys, showed Android became the world’s best-selling operating system for smartphones last quarter, ahead of Nokia Oyj and Apple’s platforms.

Google dropped 54 cents to $600.45 at 9:51 a.m. New York time on the Nasdaq Stock Market, and Apple fell 13 cents to $335.97.

(Updates with analyst’s comment in sixth paragraph.)
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