Apple doesn’t fear Android tablet gains, but PC makers should

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Apple’s iPad sold 15.4 million units during the final calendar quarter of 2011, representing a 111-percent increase over its tablet sales from the same period in 2010. Android tablets managed to increase their share of the tablet market by 10 percentage points during the same year, according to new numbers from Strategy Analytics (via Bloomberg), but that’s less Apple’s concern, and more of one for PC makers having trouble transitioning to the post-PC era.

Apple CEO Tim Cook said during his company’s recent earnings call that iPad sales haven’t really been affected by the Amazon Kindle Fire, which is no doubt contributing heavily to the success of Android tablets. It’s also likely the Barnes & Noble Nook Color and Nook Tablet are included in the Android figures. Instead, Cook admitted the iPad has had some cannibalization effect on sales of Macs, and he predicted that one day, the tablet market will be larger in volume than the PC market.

Compared to Android, Apple still has a dominant position in the tablet market, with a 57.6-percent share compared to Android’s 39.1 percent, according to Strategy Analytics’ most recent numbers. In terms of year-over-year growth, the tablet space has grown by 150 percent between the end of 2010 and 2011. In other words, even if shares were more evenly split, the iPad would still be seeing big gains in unit sales.

The PC market, on the other hand, contracted by around six percent in the fourth quarter of 2011, according to research firm Gartner. That’s despite 20 percent growth by Apple’s own Mac line of computers. Kevin Tofel recently pointed out here on GigaOM that half of computing device sales are now mobile. If the trend of growing tablet and smartphone sales continue, and PC sales continue to decline, we’ll soon be in a position where mobiles are considered a primary device by the majority of users.

Apple will continue to sell iPads. A new refresh expected in the coming months might even help it turn the tide of slipping market share, since while the low-cost Kindle Fire may be a success, other Android tablet makers still seem to be having a hard time putting out a product consumers can get genuinely excited about. Kevin wrote last week about how Android 4.0, while it improves the Android tablet experience, still has a lot of glaring pain points. Also, Android’s tablet-specific app library lags considerably behind Apple’s, and isn’t catching up anywhere near as fast as the market on the smartphone side.

The companies putting out Android tablets that fail to achieve the Kindle Fire’s level of success are the same ones being hurt by the slowing PC market, and they’re the ones that stand to lose the most. Amazon’s Kindle fire has reportedly sold as many as 6 million units through the end of 2011, according to estimates, which would make it the world’s best-selling Android tablet.

Apple continues to appeal to a steadily growing audience of tablet users, but Amazon is answering the call of those who were happier buying bargain-priced netbooks for their basic computing needs, rather than spending more on an iPad. That’s the market PC makers should have been trying to retain with their own tablet efforts, and also the one Amazon has positioned itself best to appeal to.

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