Amazon's (NASDAQ:AMZN) Kindle Fire helped power market share for tablets based on Google's (NASDAQ:GOOG) Android operating system to 39 percent market share for the fourth quarter of 2011, up from 29 percent a year ago.
Global tablet shipments reached an all-time high of 26.8 million units in Q4 2011, up 150 percent from 10.7 million units in Q4 2010, according to researcher Strategy Analytics. Worldwide tablet shipments topped 66.9 million units in full-year 2011, surging 260 percent from 18.6 million in full-year 2010.
With 15.4 million iPads sold for Q4, Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) accounted for the lion's share of tablet sales. However, the company's tablet share dropped to 58 percent, down from 68 percent from the fourth quarter a year ago, as Android narrowed the gap.
While the iPad established the tablet market, Android tablets struggled to gain traction until 2011. Slates from Motorola, Samsung and HTC have not sold to the degree of scale the iPad has enjoyed.
What's selling well? Researchers count the Android-based Barnes & Noble Nook e-reader as an Android tablet, which bolsters the market share numbers.
Moreover, the Kindle Fire, a 7-inch, $199 slate running a custom version of Android, sold millions of units in the holiday quarter. That above all accounts for Android's 10 percent year-over-year market share gain. Android tablet shipments tripled to 10.5 million units.
It also bears noting that Apple's reported iPad shipment numbers are for units sold, while the aggregate of Android tablet makers simply count units shipped to retailers.
To that end, Strategy Analytics Executive Director Neil Mawston said dozens of Android models distributed across multiple countries by numerous brands such as Amazon, Samsung, Asus and others have been driving volumes.
Moreover, Android is popular with tablet manufacturers despite concerns about fragmentation of Android's operating system, user interface and app store ecosystem.
For example, Google branched out from its smartphone OS to offer Android Honeycomb for tablets last year. Moreover, Android OEMs customize their phones and developers write applications that don't run on every platform build.
Today, tablets are a two-horse race between Android and iOS, as the Hewlett-Packard TouchPad sales were slim and Research In Motion's Blackberry PlayBook continues its descent. The researcher said Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) captured 1 percent global tablet share in Q4 2011.
However, that should change in 2012 as tablets come to the fore bearing Windows 8, which wowed watchers at the 2012 Consumer Electronics Show earlier this month.