Despite some high-profile underperformers, Android-based tablets may occupy some 20 percent of the market, according to new data from ABI Research.
That being said, Apple's iPad continues its domination of the space. "Many vendors have introduced media tablets, but none are separating themselves from the pack to pose a serious threat to Apple," ABI Research Mobile Devices Group Director Jeff Orr wrote in an Aug. 11 statement. "In fact, most have introduced products at prices higher than similarly configured iPads."
The firm also cited Android fragmentation as a source of significant headwinds for the OS. On top of that, a flood of lower-cost devices onto store shelves could ultimately harm the whole tablet segment. "This will certainly help bolster year-over-year growth for the category," Orr added, "but it also creates a negative perception in the minds of the mass consumer audience about the readiness of media tablets to be fully functional within the next several years."
In the end, he added, "good user experiences and product response are needed to propel this market beyond the -early adopter' stage."
In recent months, Android tablets have entered the marketplace in ever-greater numbers. Some, such as the Motorola Xoom, failed to perform up to their pre-release hype; others, including Samsung's Galaxy Tab franchise, could end up attracting more market share. Despite some of those crash-and-burns, tablets are enjoying something of a renaissance. Research firm IHS recently predicted tablet shipments would reach 61.9 million units this year, versus 19.7 million in 2010, helping drive rising adoption of Internet-enabled devices.
"These new figures are the latest evidence that the Internet is not just for PCs anymore," Jordan Selburn, principal analyst for consumer platforms at IHS, wrote in an Aug. 12 statement. "Increasingly, each Internet-enabled electronics device is vying to become the center of what is known as the digital living room, aggregating content throughout the home."
IHS included media tablets in its calculations, but excluded smartphones, which the firm tracks under the metric of wireless communications equipment. "Although IHS officially designates tablets as wireless devices," read the firm's Aug. 12 note concerning the results, "they are being included in the Internet-enabled consumer electronics category because of the key role they are playing in the market for the connected home."
Meanwhile, analysts are questioning whether the iPad, as the market leader in tablets, is cannibalizing the existing PC market. During Apple's last earnings call, COO Tim Cook acknowledged the effect of the iPad on his own company's products. "Some customers choose to purchase an iPad instead of a new Mac during the quarter," he told media and analysts. "But even more customers chose to buy an iPad over a Windows PC. ... There's a lot more of the PC Windows business to cannibalize than the Mac."
Some analysts see the iPad as having a definite impact.
"The iPad has successfully integrated the functionality of a slimmed-down notebook into a media-player form factor," Gleacher & Co. analyst Brian Marshall wrote in a July research note, "and has effectively rendered a significant portion of the Mac (and potentially the iPhone) product family obsolete. This presents a serious problem as iPhones and Macs generated 64 [percent] of Apple's total revenue in [calendar year] 2010."
The iPad may be cannibalizing the PC, but can Android tablets cannibalize the iPad?