Android Reaches 39% Tablet OS Market Share (Standing On Amazon’s Shoulders)

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Apple’s iPad reigns supreme from whatever angle you choose to look at the tablet market (profits, apps, quality, market share, mindshare, you name it), but research firm Strategy Analytics this morning said Android did manage to capture a record 39 percent tablet OS market share in the fourth quarter of 2011.

Apple maintains the lead with 58 percent market share in Q4 2011 (down from 68 percent in the fourth quarter of 2010).

Peter King, a research director at Strategy Analytics, says global tablet shipments (the research firm explains that these refer to ‘sell-in’ and not over-the-counter sales—an important difference, those Android tabs could sit on the shelves forever at Best Buy and never be bought) reached an all-time high of 26.8 million units in Q4 2011, surging 150 percent from 10.7 million in Q4 2010. He added:

“Apple shipped a robust 15.4 million iPads worldwide and maintained its strong market leadership with 58 percent share during the fourth quarter of 2011. Apple shrugged off the much-hyped threat from entry-level Android models this quarter.”

They did indeed, even if these aren’t really ‘threatening’ Apple at all. Android climbing to 39 percent share (up from 29 percent in Q4 2010) is, nevertheless, meaningful, but here’s the thing: Strategy Analytics includes Amazon’s Kindle Fire in the list of Android models it tracks the distribution of.

The Kindle Fire runs a heavily customized version of Android, sure, but it’s a different beast from, say, Samsung’s Galaxy Tab or Motorola’s Xoom. I would love to know how much of that 39 percent market share can be attributed to the undeniably strong sales numbers of the Kindle Fire.

Put differently, imagine if Amazon didn’t opt for Android or hadn’t yet released the Fire. Which Android tablet makers would be posing a serious threat to Apple then?

I wouldn’t go as far as to say Android tablets ‘failed’ miserably in 2011, but it’s a far cry from success if you ask me. A lot of people expected Android to be on par with iOS by now.

Worth noting: Strategy Analytics is not including Android-powered ebook readers in its latest report.

Update: you should also definitely read LAPTOP Mag’s Analyst: Kindle Fire, Nook Tablet Have 40% of Android Tablet Sales

I have no doubt Android tablets will actually end up commanding a larger tablet OS market share than Apple’s iOS over time, but that will be a logical result of its distribution model and not “Android winning” (basically, Apple chooses not to focus on market share but on profit margins). That Android model also comes with a real, unquestionable fragmentation problem.

Apple shouldn’t worry about the surge of Android in terms of tablet market share, desktop PC makers and the likes of RIM, Nokia and Microsoft should. Especially with an iPad 3 coming in 2012.

Something that crossed my mind: Strategy Analytics estimates that Microsoft captured a mere 1.5 percent global tablet OS market share in Q4 2011, which is very ironic if you think about how early the software giant started thinking about tablet computers and their potential in the enterprise and getting such devices into consumers’ hands.

Says Strategy Analytics: “The upcoming release of Windows 8 this year cannot come quickly enough for Microsoft, so its hardware partners can start competing more effectively in the tablet space”.

No shit.