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Android tablets finally catching on, says Strategy Analytics

It's taken a while but Android tablets may finally be starting to make a dent in Apple's share of the overall tablet market.

RELATED: Tablet ownership nearly doubles over the holidays

FIRST LOOK: The Amazon Kindle Fire

According to the latest research from Strategy Analytics, manufacturers shipped 10.5 million Android-based tablets in the fourth quarter of 2011, good for 39.1% of all tablets shipped in the quarter. Apple's iPad still remained the king of the tablet hill, however, as Apple shipped 15.4 million iPads in the quarter, good for 57.6% of all tablets shipped.

The new numbers do reflect significant growth for Android tablets over the past year, however, as Android-based tablets accounted for just 29% of all shipments in the fourth quarter of 2010 while iPads accounted for a whopping 68.2% of all shipments over the same period. Neil Mawston, the executive director at Strategy Analytics, says the growth of Android tablets has been very similar to the growth of Android-based smartphones, as multiple vendors have all come out with their own versions of tablets that run on Google's free-to-use mobile operating system.

"Dozens of Android models distributed across multiple countries by numerous brands such as Amazon, Samsung, Asus and others have been driving volumes," he says. "Android is so far proving to be relatively popular with tablet manufacturers despite nagging concerns about fragmentation of Android's operating system, user-interface and app store ecosystem."

Google has attempted to address fragmentation complaints on its Android devices with the release of Android 4.0 (a.k.a., "Ice Cream Sandwich"), the first version of the Android platform that's designed to run the same on both tablets and smartphones. The operating system also comes with several new features, including a lock screen that can unlock using facial recognition software; Android Beam, technology that lets users send contact information, directions, Web pages and more via NFC by tapping their phones together; and integration with the Google+ social network that lets users host online video chats among their circles of friends.

Although Apple's iPad has completely dominated the tablet market over the last two years, a new batch of low-cost tablets started hitting the market over the past month, led by Amazon's popular Kindle Fire tablet that sells for $199 and that runs on Google's Android operating system. Amazon has claimed that the Kindle Fire has been "the most successful product we've ever launched" and Barclays analyst Anthony DiClemente estimated that Amazon sold 5.5 million Kindle Fire units over the first quarter of its release. These numbers still pale in comparison to that iPad, however, which sold an estimated 13 million units in the fourth quarter of 2011.

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