Why the iPad’s 95.5% Market Share Means Nothing, Yet

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The iPad is making headlines today for dominating the global tablet market during the last quarter, accounting for 95.5 percent of all shipments, according to Strategy Analytics. It’s a big number, and unquestionably a success for Apple, but it’s also a statistic that belies the nature of the clash to come for tablet devices.

Winning the Game It Created

Right now, claiming that Apple is dominating the tablet market is a little like saying Alexander Graham Bell dominated the telephone industry in 1876. By almost all accounts, the iPad forged its own niche, and left competitors scrambling to catch up. But, as with the telephone, that doesn’t mean competitors won’t catch up.

Slaying the Dragon

The situation is similar to (but not the same as) that faced by other device manufacturers when the iPhone was first introduced. Like the iPad, the iPhone was widely embraced by tech enthusiasts and consumers for its ease of use, design and App Store. For a long time after its introduction, the efforts of other handset makers was widely framed as the quest for an “iPhone killer.”

Many of those same companies are now faced with creating an iPad killer, but the climb seems much steeper still since Apple isn’t entering an already dense and competitive market, as it was with the iPhone. But is it really a higher mountain to climb?

The Rest of the Field

The iPad is well-placed to remain the leading tablet device for some time to come; I’m not disputing that. But I do think we’ll see a much more wide open field at this time next year. Whereas with the iPhone, competitors had to worry about both hardware and software gaps between themselves and Cupertino, this time around, device manufacturers have Android. With a growing built-in software distribution platform, and the weight of Google behind it, Android offers something the first companies making prospective iPhone killers didn’t have available to them.

As soon as Android-powered tablets can find the right hardware mix, and refine production practices and parts sourcing to bring prices down, we’ll see a boom in business in their favor. Android accounted for just two percent of global tablet shipments last quarter, but think about what was available. Considering the caliber of Android devices that were on the market, I’d say that’s a success in itself.

Android won’t be the only one elbowing for room in the tablet market, either. BlackBerry is set to release the PlayBook, which will be popular among enterprise customers. Hewlett-Packard, Microsoft and ViewSonic look poised to grab a piece of the action, too.

The Stage is Set

Apple has done an amazing thing with the iPad. Its sales to date are tremendous, and it led to consumers embracing tablet computing in a big way. But talking about its market share at this early stage isn’t really saying much of anything at all. The interesting discussion isn’t around where the iPad currently places among its competitors, but about where it will be a year from now.

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