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Summary:

A report earlier this week pegged one Android tablet sold for every two iPads. Sounds like Honeycomb tablets are catching up, right? But there’s a problem: The figures aren’t based on sales numbers at all. Here’s a logical, reasonable method to the real tablet-sales data.

tab-vs-ipad

Android tablets reportedly accounted for 30.1 percent of last quarter’s global tablet shipments, indicating that Google is finding fast success against Apple’s iPad. The key word, however, is “shipments,” which isn’t a measurement of sales. That means the 4.6 million figure, reported by research firm Strategy Analytics, includes every Android tablet in a warehouse, in transit from the manufacturer to retail outlets or sitting on store shelves waiting to be sold. On the other hand, Apple’s 9.3 million figure (61.3 percent of tablets) represents actual sales. What’s the real deal here when it comes to tablet sales by platform?

John Gruber, a high-profile blogger, caught this insightful tweet from Robert Synnott that sheds more light on actual sales:

Google says it has activated 135 million cumulative Android devices so far. So why not look at Google’s own developer dashboard figures to see how many of those devices are running a version of Honeycomb? That won’t account for an exact sales figure, but it should provide a far more reasonable estimate; if a device is hitting the Android Market, it’s likely a “sold” device and not a dormant tablet in a shipment box.

Google’s dashboard currently shows that 0.9 percent of all Android devices that accessed the Market in the two-week period that ended on July 5 are running Android 3.0 or 3.1. That figure multiplied by 135 million devices works out as a reasonable estimate of 1.2 million Android tablets actually in use.

This estimate makes more sense to me, although there are a few issues that aren’t accounted for. Android tablets actually have been around before Honeycomb launched this year. Think of the Samsung Galaxy Tab, which I bought due to better portability, or any number of other Android 2.x slates that have been available for a year or more. Also not included are any Honeycomb tablets that didn’t access the Market in the past two weeks. It’s likely a small figure, but it’s a valid number to be sure.

Essentially, however, all of this means the iPad is outselling all Android tablets combined by nearly an eight to one ratio at the moment. That differs greatly from how people are interpreting the Strategy Analytics data, which could be construed as one Android tablet sold for every two iPads.

None of this information is meant to suggest which tablet platform is “better” or which you should buy. I’ve repeatedly said that the best tablet is the one that meets your individual needs. There’s much to like about the HP Touchpad, Android tablets, the BlackBerry PlayBook and the iPad. But let’s not kid ourselves: Love it or hate it, there’s no denying that Apple’s iPad is handily outselling competitors for the time being.

  1. Should the Nook Color count as a tablet? Reports back in March were saying it sold 1 million over the holidays alone. Still questionable whether it counts as an Android tablet, but it does run Angry Birds (isn’t that the litmus test?).

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    1. Great question, but I kept this to pure tablets. I think it’s reasonable to assume that most Nook Color owners are using the device with the B&N software, not a custom ROM or Android build. It’s a tricky situation now that the Nook Color officially supports apps through the B&N application store, so point taken. :)

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  2. It seems that GIGA OHM is full of mac fanboys. You’re only couting the tablets that Google actually know about?, the Nook?, the chinese devices that use Android? because if Google is taking them as an Android devices, it’s obvious that Apple is outnumbered!!

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    1. Yup, I’m a Mac fanboi. That’s why I sold the original iPad for Galaxy Tab. (http://gigaom.com/mobile/why-i-just-dumped-the-ipad-hint-size-matters/) It’s probably the reason I noted the HP TouchPad and BlackBerry Playbook in this post (hit the links to see what I like about both). And I suppose the balanced “What Tablet is Best for You” I wrote last week suggests buying an iPad (Hint: it doesn’t. http://gigaom.com/mobile/best-tablet-for-you/) Yup you caught me: I’m a Mac fanboi. ;)

      Along the lines of the Nook and other devices that don’t have access to the Android Market: yes, there is a large number of devices that fit this category. We’re talking about pure tablets here; adding in these variants to suit an argument doesn’t really make sense to me, but that’s just my opinion.

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      1. Good thing that you’re there!!, and indeed what I said it’s just my opinion too.

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    2. Don’t worry Kevin. This is the argument used by those who have no leg to stand on. It’s just babble.

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    3. Kevin is not a mac fanboy. He dumped his iPhone for an Nexus and has been pushing Google code for forever now.

      If anything he’s a Google fanboy.

      There is no opinion here it’s just plain numbers. The iPad is blowing all other tablets out of the water.
      There are by far more meaningful applications written by not only 2 bit coders but giant software institutions the deep pockets. If you need to run anything companies code for the iPad first, Android second. Again because of the numbers. Android vs iPad is like Mac vs Windows the only difference is the mass market leader is the better product. And yes I own a sh!tty Android phone that I can’t wait till my contract is over to get off of. Android is too buggy for my taste. But hey apuleyo you might find bugs awfully tasty.

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      1. Thank you for a wonderful troll. I lolled!

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    4. Clint Arthemis Golub Sunday, September 4, 2011

      apuleyo, your personal bias limits your understanding of the world. You need to be more open-minded my friend. Just like Kevin did say, all these tablets have their strengths and weaknesses. If the only reason you hate the iPad is..well because you hate the iPad, that doesn’t count as a valid argument. Android has plenty of good points to throw at Apple without idiotic comments such as yours.

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  3. So what happens when phones are running 3.x or ICS? Theres a million ways to do math.

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    1. We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it, but for now, this logic seems reasonable. Ideally, I’d love to see better disclosure all around on actual sales, but that’s not likely to happen.

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  4. There’s a flaw in this logic. Google’s Android dashboard measures Android devices that have accessed the Android Market within the last 14 days. The 135M Android device activations is just that — cumulative Android device activations over all time and is a different basis.

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    1. You’ve described / reworded what I have in the post, but I don’t think you’ve explained what’s invalid in the logic. At least, I don’t see how it’s flawed based on your comment. Can you elaborate?

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      1. The percentage of Android devices that have accessed Market in past 14 days is 0.9%. We don’t know how many devices make up 100% of all devices which have accessed Market in past 14 days.

        Gruber is assuming it’s 135M. That assumption is just plain wrong. 135M is total number of Android devices activated over all time. The number of devices that have accessed Market in past 2 weeks is much smaller than 135M. 0.9% of a smaller number is a bigger number.

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      2. Err… that should be:
        The percentage of Android devices running Honeycomb that have accessed Market in past 14 days is 0.9%.

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      3. Never mind. Hiding my head in math shame.

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      4. Thanks for the response; I understand where you’re coming from now!

        So let’s go down that path. Google is activating 550,000 devices a day. In 14 days, that’s 7.7m devices. In the 14 day period ending July 5, Google shows 0.9% of Android devices hit the Market. That works out to 69,300 tablets in the last 2 weeks.

        In the last quarter, Apple claims 9.3 million iPads sold. That will vary in any 2 week period, but 9.3m divided by 90 days = 103,000 iPads sold every day. Over 2 weeks that’s 1.45 million iPads sold.

        Definitely check my math as I did this quickly, but using the logic that you’re alluding to actually makes it look far *worse* for Android. If I misinterpreted your argument, my apologies; just trying to get a better idea of the numbers.

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  5. Of course there’s a difference between shipments and sales, but the argument that the distribution channels are stuffed with $2.5B worth of Android tablet inventory just so Android can claim 30% market share seems a bit ridiculous.

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    1. Nobody is suggesting that Google is stuffing inventory channels to claim market share. I’m questioning the approach of Strategy Analytics’ numbers which many are equating to sales. Big difference, no?

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      1. Google isn’t the one stuffing the channel. It’s the manufactures.

        And the fact that no Android tablet has been willing to come out and share actual sales figures is quite telling. And the ones that give a smidgeon of information like Samsung hide behind the shipped number even while admitting shipments do not actually constitute sales.

        This sort of dodginess is telling about how badly Android tablets are selling.

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  6. Bases on my own limited sphere, I’d say android tablets running 2.x are at least as common as ones running 3.x by that standard I think your flippant remark that tablets running 2.x can just be dismissed is unfair. Look at the figures for the original galaxy tab and how big a slice they captured and I think you should double your estimate of sold tablets.

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    1. ” your flippant remark that tablets running 2.x can just be dismissed is unfair.”

      Hmm… which remark is that? I didn’t dismiss these at all; I pointed out that the logic doesn’t account for these devices, so it’s not an exact number. I’m slightly confused by your comment….

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      1. Ken Jackson Friday, July 22, 2011

        I think he’s referring to this comment: “It’s likely a small figure, but a valid number to be sure.”

        I don’t think its likely to be a very small figure. By far the biggest selling tablet ran 2.x (Galaxy Tab). The chart at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Android_devices#Tablet_computers shows that the vast majority of tablets are not on 3.x. Until 3.x is deployed more broadly, I don’t think using 3.x numbers by themselves is useful. And I’d argue less useful than “shipped”.

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        1. Yup, that makes sense Ken, although I don’t think I was flippant at all. In any case, I think Samsung said they “shipped” 2 million Galaxy Tabs, which I’d think is the most prominent Android 2.x tablet. Even if Samsung sold all 2m, when you add them to the total Android tablet sales, the platform is still far behind: Apple’s iPad has cumulatively sold 28m units or so. I’m not picking sides here; I use both an Android tablet and an iPad. I’m just trying to dig into the “Android has 30% of the tablet market” bits floating around; clearly not even close to being accurate for the reasons you, I and others have mentioned here. Thanks!

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  7. Your 8 to 1 ratio (at the moment) pits iPads from this quarter against an estimated number of all time cumulative Android devices estimated to be tablets. I don’t think you can reasonably argue that all 135 million of the estimated Android tablets sold this quarter alone. Especially when you include the 2.x tablets that have been available since the first Galaxy Tab.

    John Gruber’s numbers seem to be a lot closer, and a lot more telling in the argument of the tablet pc market as a whole, ranking sales of all iPads thus far (roughly 28 million), against the 1.2 – 1.4 million Android devices thought to be tablets.
    That makes the ratio over to 21 to 1.

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    1. Good point, Justin. See me comment from a short while ago that looks at both markets over a 2 week period. Those figures are more in line with Gruber’s numbers. Thanks!

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  8. Matthias Welsh Friday, July 22, 2011

    As a galaxy tab (7) and 10.1 owner I really hope the android tablet ecosystem keeps growing and initial disappointing sales numbers don’t become a self fulfilling prophecy but with the tech media harping on them (not that anyone is at fault) I feel like Google really needs to do something to kickstart sales. Maybe Amazon will bring the masses.

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    1. Yes, Google needs to do something… ahem Like make Android less buggy. All but the most techie consumer would put up with all the bugs. Maybe start by not having to force close every other app on my stinking Android device would be a start.

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  9. Oh what another year will say. I imagine some will be a surprised.

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    1. “Also not included are any Honeycomb tablets that didn’t access the Market in the past two weeks. It’s likely a small figure, but it’s a valid number to be sure.”

      I don’t think that number is small at all.

      * Not everyone is shopping for new applications on a regular basis. I can’t say I’ve opened Google Marketplace on any of my Android devices (2) in the last 4-6 months.

      * A fair number of Android tablets don’t ship with Google Marketplace.

      * Until recently Google Marketplace was fairly worthless outside of only 31 countries supporting paid applications. On my Nexus One I could swap in a AT&T prepaid SIM and buy apps over WiFi, but on the XOOM I was just completely out-of-luck. I switched to Amazon Android AppStore, and I have no reason to ever go back to Google Marketplace. They added 100 countries in May 2011 (including Costa Rica & Panama), but still exclude China!

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  10. I am still bit lost from Google’s play in the (home/office) tablet play instead of broadening their service eco-system for the mobile market. <6" needs far better services to keep accelerate. We have been talking about it all a lot of times … better video, VoIP, google+, …

    Just as much as I am lost from MS competing in the mobile market instead of going head to head with Apple over the home/office tablets.

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