How To Succeed (Sort Of) In Tablets Without Really Trying? Ask HP

What do you have to be willing to do in order to gain traction in an Apple-dominated tablet market? Give your product away at a huge loss. That’s the only reason Hewlett-Packard (NYSE: HPQ) found itself the leader in non-iPad tablet sales to U.S. consumers through October, according to a new study.

NPD tracked the number of non-iPad tablets actually sold at retail, and determined that just 1.2 million were sold between January 2011 and October. By comparison, Apple (NSDQ: AAPL) has sold 25 million iPads (worldwide) over the same nine-month period. So no matter how you slice the numbers, it’s clear that for now, we’re living in an iPad world.

Among the also-rans, HP led the way with 17 percent of the remaining market, followed closely by Samsung. Asus, Motorola (NYSE: MMI), and Acer trailed, in that order, with Research in Motion’s Playbook nowhere to be found among the top 5 brands.

Selling your product at a substantial loss (HP said yesterday the WebOS/TouchPad debacle has cost it $3.3 billion over the years) is obviously not a desired way to gain market share, and the fourth-quarter holiday season numbers will obviously be different given the lack of that product. But NPD said that tablet makers should hold out hope that they can blunt Apple’s domination of the market: 76 percent of those who bought something other than an iPad said they never considered the iPad in making their decision. That means, according to NPD, that there is pent-up demand for iPad alternatives.