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January 30, 2012 • News

Did Android Tablets GAIN Market Share … or Lose It?

If you look at the image above, you might come to the conclusion that Android tablets have made significant inroads against the iPad in the fourth quarter of 2011.

That would be an incorrect conclusion, though one that many people are making.

There are two problems with the conclusion. The first is that while Apple discloses ‘sales’, Android numbers are a combination of ‘shipments’, ‘% shipment increase from last year’, and ‘estimates’. In other words, real numbers against imaginary numbers. More on this later.

The other problem is the idea of exactly what constitutes an Android tablet. I’ll answer with a question … was the HP200LX considered a ‘computer’? No, in spite of running DOS 5, sporting an x86 processor and allowing for installation of programs, it was seen as a PDA. And an awesome one. But the point is that in spite of sharing some characteristics, they are just not the same beast.

The same is true when comparing so-called Android tablets.

Is anything in a bigger-than-phone size with the Android OS at its’ core an Android tablet? Certainly that is an argument, but I would instead turn the criteria that Google uses on manufacturers around on them: if there is no Android Market, no Google services … it is NOT an Android tablet. It is an ‘Android-based device’ to be sure … just like the HP200LX was a PC.

So what does that mean? It means that I would not categorize the Kindle Fire or the Nook Color/Tablet as Android tablets. Their core focus in on the vertical integration of the content offered by Amazon & Barnes & Noble, NOT Google.

So what happens if we assume that Amazon sold 6 million Kindle Fire units in the fourth quarter, and that Barnes & Noble sold the 1.5 million Nook Color/Tablet units they ordered, what would the picture look like? Here is a modified table assuming the same 26.4 million total.

So we see that Amazon and Barnes & Noble would account for more than 27% of tablet share in the fourth quarter, with Android tablets accounting for less than 12%. Not only is that a HUGE decrease in market share year on year, it actually shows a VOLUME decrease! We can debate the Nook Color figures in 2010 versus 2011 … but in general it shows what I have said all along – there is a general consumer rejection of Android Tablets.

Let me say it again: MOST (87%) people DO NOT WANT an Android Tablet – they WANT an iPad, an Amazon tablet or a Barnes & Noble tablet.

Before I questioned the shipment numbers for Android. Why? Well, in specific I look at Samsung. Last year there was talk of 1-2 million Galaxy Tabs shipped in Q4 2010 which were then counted as sales – when we later found to be MUCH less than 100,000! Not only that, but the Android tablet return rate has repeatedly been shown to exceed even the very high return numbers of Android phones … which compares to the ~2% iOS returns.

And this year Samsung stopped reporting actual numbers and only reports deltas from prior year ‘for competitive reasons’. Aside from calling BS on that in general, I see it as a clever ‘out’ for Samsung to avoid discussing numbers in general, leaving speculation to analysts … which always benefits and never hurts Samsung! So if Samsung was pegged at 1.5 million tablets for 2010 and reported a 66% increase for 2011, then analysts would report 2.5 million in sales as FACT. So once again we are dealing with Apple’s actual 15.4 versus some phantom estimate from analysts regarding Samsung.

Finally – look at the most iconic Android tablets of the last year. We have the Xoom (failure), Galaxy Tab 10.1 (globally found to be a shameless iPad clone), HTC Flyer (key feature is a stylus … but it required a $89 stylus bought separately – which no one did), and a bunch of other generic and mediocre tablets no one remembers. And … the ASUS Transformer (and now Transformer Prime). One of the very best selling and most unique Android devices of the past year, quickly getting the Ice Cream Sandwich update, and iconic because of the keyboard dock with trackpad and battery extender (albeit for $150 more).

So let me correct the story, the story is NOT about Android market share … in fact, here are the tablet news headlines for 2011:

– 2011 was the year of the iPad 2, as reflected by massive sales, monstrous enterprise penetration, and complete domination of markets such as music production and gaming.

– 2011 saw the first credible tablet alternative in the Kindle Fire, which rose from nowhere to 22% of the market. The Nook also increased sales considerably.

– The total story for 2011 tells that the market is looking for a vertically integrated solution, not a fragmented device with a sub-standard OS and mediocre support.

– The Android story for the year is that the most iconic and one of the top selling devices of the year was … basically a netbook.

12 Responses to " Did Android Tablets GAIN Market Share … or Lose It? "

  1. Francis Scardino says:

    By no means can anyone dispute that the iPad is the King of all tablets. Where numbers is mostly an inflation game and a whole bunch of crunching that means nothing to the consumer I can fully agree that they are nothing short of misleading on the Android side. 

    The breakdown you put together above is quite clear and probably how is should have been relayed to begin with, I have zero argument with that. Where I simply have to disagree is where you state that the Nook and Kindle Fire are not Android tablets simply because they do not share a part of the Google ecosystem. Android as you know is a product of Google, and these are not Google tablets. They are Android tablets. When Google purchased and eventually released Android, it was clear they were into it for the long haul and had a hopeful future for the OS further than just phones and mobile devices. 

    Since the core of the OS itself is open source, (short of the HC debacle, which is noted since we are talking about tablets) there are manufacturers making all sorts of devices with Android on board. There are now GPS’s, Car Audio systems, Home Automation, TV’s, etc all running on the core of Android. Do they look like Android? Some maybe, but for the most part no. Do they use the market, again some maybe but short of mobile devices, No. But I hardly say that they are not running on Android. These devices of course not relevant to the tablet argument, but my point is that they are still Android devices. 

    ” if there is no Android Market, no Google services … it is NOT an Android tablet”

    So to say that the Nook and Fire are not Android devices I believe is not giving credit where it’s due. Maybe not Google devices as a whole, but these two especially are running Android at the core. Because Google allows you to run the OS portion of Android as you see fit, choosing to use Google apps or not should not categorize a tablet that runs Android OS as a non Android tablet. We are going to see a lot more Android “based” devices that have nothing to do with Google services soon enough. (ie. Arduino, Appliances, TV’s, Washer/Dryer, etc..) Should Google include these in their market numbers? Absolutely not, but are they Android devices? Absolutely. 

    With that said Android and Google have some work to do before they can truly take any piece of the tablet market. Excellent write up. 

    • David Min says:

      I would agree with you that the Kindle Fire and the Nook are Android devices.  Are they tablets?  Therein lies the rub.

      At some point, we have to draw the line in defining what, exactly, constitutes a tablet device.  Simply running Android OS and supporting a touchscreen interface is much too broad, as the future then would include Android devices in cars which is a stretch.

      I think that what Michael is defining as an Android tablet is a touchscreen device, presumably 7″ or larger in screen size, running the Android OS (of some flavor), which supports applications generally considered to be essential parts of the generic Android ecosystem: gmail support, Marketplace support, and Web browser (at a minimum).

      Device /= tablet.  Otherwise, we would be calling the MotoACTV a mini-tablet, neh?

      • Francis Scardino says:

        I think we are in full agreement. My concern was mostly to not consider an actual tablet and Android tablet because it is not licensed to support native Google Apps. If it runs Android then it runs Android. If it’s a touch device running Android then I agree that it is not automatically considered a tablet, but it’s still and Android device. 

    • Hey Francis & David – did you hear that Unix was the #1 computer OS in Q4 2011!

      Really!  Oh, sure it was Apple’s OS X and iOS, but since it has Unix at the core then it is a Unix PC, right?

      Just because NOBODY buys the Mac because of Unix doesn’t matter – the fact that I can run Unix apps and hit up my BASH shell means it is Unix!

      See my point?

      NOBODY … I repeat NOBODY (well, maybe a few tech-heads) bought the Kindle Fire or Nook Tablet as a ‘Android Tablet’ – they bought them as vertically integrated Amazon and Barnes & Noble devices.

      • David Min says:


        I already agreed with your original premise without the supporting Unix argument!  I personally do not consider the Fire or the Nook as true Android tablets, given that they run a hamstrung version of the OS that works within a predetermined ecosystem as opposed to an open ecosystem.  It’s interesting that the best selling “tablets” in the Android world essentially recreate the iOS ecosystem, which goes against the whole “open” nature of Android OS.

        Amazon is powerful enough to pull it off, but with the Kindle Fire out now, I foresee the Nook’s market share dwindling over time.

  2. doogald says:

    There is no doubt that the iPad both owns this market and drives this market, both for sales share and profit share. No doubt.

    However, I’m not sure that I buy your logic that you can subtract the guessed sales numbers of Kindle Fires and Nook Tablets (you say that you are assuming that Amazon sold 6 million Fires and Barnes & Noble sold 1.5 million Nooks) from the 10.5 million Android tablet figure and leave 3 million Android tablets.  In fact, if you read the Techcrunch article that your chart comes from, it quotes Laptop Mag as saying that the Fire and Nook Tablet have about 40% of all Android tablet sales – so, your figure should be about 6.3 million Android tablets, not 3 million, and that’s double the sales of the prior year quarter (Apple is more than double – 111%.) So, really not a terrible story for Android after all, and so far better than the Fire and Nooks combined.
    Lastly, a Kindle Fire can run apps that you purchase on the Amazon Android App Store. In that sense, at least, it is an Android device. 

    • I only used the TechCrunch link for the graphic – the rest of the stuff I don’t believe. 

      The problem with all of the Android stuff is it is guesses – and I give no credence to the Laptop mag numbers.  They just don’t jibe with what we have been hearing – we KNOW that the Xoom was one of the top 2 or 3 Android tablets of 2011 … and it sold <1 million unites.  ALL YEAR.  Sorry – there is just no way that Android did 6.3 – not buying it.  Unless it is a typical Sony/Samsung style trick and they have 3 million of them sitting in warehouses/shelves somewhere because they leveraged their TV business and said to folks like Best Buy that they had to take 1 tablet for every TV they got.

      The most reasonable estimates are for the Kindle Fire and Nook – because they farm out production.  Samsung is all inside work, so we have no idea, and the same is true for the others.  We know that Amazon had initially ordered 4 million for Q4 and then upped the order.  We know that B&N ordered 1.5 million.  We know both said they sold everything they were able to make.  Conservatively that is 6.5, but recent estimates make it 7.5.

      In the absence of facts I choose the most reasonable course, and the most data rich source.  Samsung makes proclamations when things are good, hides behind BS when they are not.  They tout cell phone sales – because they are good.  They hide tablet sales – because they are not.

      Other estimates have the Kindle Fire exceeding ALL Samsung tablets sold EVER.

      Bottom line – we disagree.  Android tablets were, are, and continue to be a dismal failure.  And apparently ICS is mediocre at best on tablets as well.

      • doogald says:

        You say that you used the Techcrunch link “just for the graphic” and then used the numbers, and some fantasy numbers which nobody knows to be true, to build your own table showing a different analysis. You say that the Android stuff is all guesses, and then throw out that you *know* that the Xoom was one of the top “2 or 3 selling” tablets, after admitting you have no idea of Samsung’s numbers. You also said that one of the most iconic devices and one of the best selling tablets was the Asus Transformer Prime (was it first? better than the Xoom? better than any of the Galaxy tabs?)  – without a shred of evidence. It’s very possible that the the 6 million orders for Kindle Fires were for a run that would satisfy longer than just the holiday quarter. You seem to know quite a bit for relying on guesses.

        We don’t disagree, by the way. I think that the iPad defines the tablet market in the same way that the iPod did the portable music player market in the past decade and is probably easily 85 to 90 percent of the market. But your trying to prove your premise with sales analysis that you say that you disagree with was a poor way to prove the point. It reminds me of political spin – pulling numbers that help prove your point while ignoring the numbers that may not.

        • What I am saying is that the sales data were only referenced by TechCrunch, and I used the graphic (from the Strategy Analytics report) that they had culled from the report.  The inferences drawn by TechCrunch and others – AS I CLEARLY STATED – I called into question.

          Also, as I have stated REPEATEDLY, a fundamental problem I have with Android makers is the non-specificity of their reporting.  Most writers/bloggers are non-math folks, so as a statistician/optical physicist I am constantly frustrated by the lack of numerical data provided.

          As a result the BEST we can do is draw inferences and triangulate.  When someone tells me that a company that makes a single product in a certain category orders a quantity of those products and then reports being ‘sold out’ … I am fairly comfortable with those numbers on a relative level.  Similarly, when we got some estimates showing Moto sold <1 million tablets, I also was comfortable with that.

          I am not at all comfortable with Samsung's numbers – but I am willing to triangulate that since we have seen from their behavior that when they exceed expectations they spout numbers and when they don't … they hide the numbers.  Samsung has hidden tablet numbers, and when they DID try to report they got caught in a pretty massive fib.  Since they are vertically integrated internally … we just don't know.  However, Samsung is an EXTREMELY political company, and if they feel that lying could get them a short-term apparent boost in market share I have little doubt they would do it.  After all, they have a history … just ask Micron.

          As for the other stuff, I am not willing to go through and re-document every bit of tablet coverage for you.  If you don't know anything about WHY the ASUS Transformer Prime is iconic, or the relative popularity of the Xoom … I really can't help you – and honestly have no clue what you are even arguing about.

          I am sorry that I didn't provide a fully referenced index and bibliography to satisfy whatever agenda you are pushing … or maybe you are just being argumentative for the sake of … I dunno.

          • Doug Miller says:

            We now know that there have been a total of 12 million Android tablets activated so far, which do not count tablets that do not have the Android Market (so, not counting the Fire or the Nooks.) We also know that the larger Samsung Galaxy Tablets were the highest activations, not the Xoom. (It doesn’t make much sense for the Xoom to be a high seller in Q4, since it was introduced in Q1 and basically bombed. I can’t believe that it sold well.) We don’t know quarterly numbers for Q4, but these are activations, so units that were sold to consumers.

            The 6.3 million that I extrapolated from the LaptopMag story was probably pretty close for Q4, guessing that more tablets were sold in the last quarter for the holidays. Maybe it’s on the high end.See

  3. Anonymous says:

    I agree with what Francis is saying – that Android is at the heart of all of it, but if you follow that logic then you could argue that iOS numbers must include all iPod Touches and for that matter since iOS is really basically OSX then shouldn’t you count all Macs as well?   I know, I’m being a bit facetious, but you see the point, I’m sure.

    I think that reallly the definitions need to fall along more functional lines – if a product differentiates the functional experience significantly then it needs to be considered a “different” product.  Amazon and B&N differentiated by offering extremely low-end, limited function devices that don’t offer the Google Android marketplace.  Is that enough differentiation to cause them not to be counted?  I guess we need to set up some definitions to determine that!

  4. The Devil's Advocate Group » Blog Archive » Barnes & Noble Out-Innovates Microsoft: How Could This Happen? says:

    […] Introduced two years after the first Kindle, Nook was a credible response and grabbed a respectable 20 percent market share from Amazon and Sony. A year later, Barnes & Noble exploited Amazon’s slowness in fielding a color version to carve out a solid niche for itself with the Nook Color, a color tablet that Barnes & Noble was smart to position against the black-and-white Kindle as opposed to the iPad. One analyst estimates that in last year’s critical 4th quarter, Barnes & Noble sold about 1.5 million Nooks, compared with Amazon’s 6 million Kindles. […]

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