Android vs. iPad: the tablet sales figures that matter

Android tablets reportedly accounted for 30.1 percent of last quarter’s global tablet shipments, indicating that Google (s goog) is finding fast success against Apple’s iPad (s aapl). 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:!/rsynnott/status/94124787961569280

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,(s hpq) Android tablets, the BlackBerry PlayBook(s rimm) 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.