More than 4.5 million tablet computers based on Google's (NASDAQ:GOOG) Android operating system shipped in the third quarter, comprising 27 percent of the market shipments, according to research released by Strategy Analytics Oct. 21.
Android's tablet share pales in comparison to the 67 percent table share enjoyed by Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) iPad, which the company said earlier this week sold 11.1 million units, and over 32 million units since its launch in April 2010.
Here's the caveat, as pointed out by GigaOm: Apple's count is for iPads actually sold. The Android count is simply the number that shipped. Only the collective retailers and their OEMs know how many have sold, versus those still sitting on store shelves.
Still, if one cottons to Strategy Analytics stats, Apple's iPad and Android slates tallied 94 percent of 16.7 million units sold, a 280 percent boost from the 4.4 million total in the third quarter last year. Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) acquired a 2 percent global tablet share, while Research in Motion's (NASDAQ:RIMM) BlackBerry PlayBook grabbed a lowly 1 percent of the market.
The big story is the boost to Android's tablet plot, which has been frequently cited as a weakness, compared with the platform's smartphone share of over 40 percent worldwide. Apple's iPhone has a 20 percent worldwide share, and as much as 28 percent in the U.S. Yet the same Android OEMs who are selling tens of millions of Android handsets have thus far struggled to duplicate that success in tablets.
Part of that is due to the overwhelming success of the iPad and the fact that smartphones are in much greater demand than the nascent tablet market. Another part of that is that the Android Honeycomb tablet-tailored operating system has proven buggy.
Indeed, Motorola Mobility (NYSE:MMI) ignited the Honeycomb machine market in February this year but was denigrated early by critics who found it buggy and crash-prone. Xoom sales were quickly eclipsed by Samsung's Galaxy Tab 10.1 and other machines that better handled Honeycomb and its later builds.
Yet somehow Android slates shipments came on strong this past quarter, increasing twelvefold from Q3 2010. Why the increase? It's not clear. Perhaps it's the availability of more tablet options and the increased awareness of the hardware medium.
HTC has launched a few slates with its Scribe stylus technology. Samsung has since added the Galaxy Tab 8.9, Tab 7.7, and is set to launch the Tab 7.0 Plus Nov. 13.
Of course, Samsung and Motorola are but two of many Android OEMs leveraging the open-source platform, according to Strategy Analytics Director Neil Mawston.
"Dozens of Android models distributed across multiple countries by numerous brands such as Samsung, Acer and others have been driving volumes," said Mawston.
The analyst added that the tablet sector will be watching the launch of Amazon's (NASDAQ:AMZN) Kindle Fire, a 7-inch Android tablet the e-commerce giant will begin selling Nov. 15 for $199. "Amazon's strategy of minimizing its hardware price is set to ignite the entry-level tablet segment and attract more mass-market consumers," Mawston added.
Given Amazon's clear predilection to challenge Apple in media sales, if the Kindle Fire sells well this holiday season-the company is supposedly taking 30,000 to 50,000 pre-orders a day-it's likely the company will announce its actual Kindle Fire sales to tout its success.