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iPad Loses Ground to Android Tablets? I Don't Think So

Android tablet shipments are catching up with Apple's iPad. Should Apple be worried? Nah!

Android fans are grinning wide today over news Android's global tablet share jumped to 39 percent in 2011, cutting into Apple's iPad market share lead. Should Apple start biting its nails? Hardly!

It's true, Android tablet makers shipped 10.5 million units in the last three months of 2011, according to a study by Strategy Analytics. But for Apple to worry about Android tablet dominance anytime soon would be absurd.

Let's peel back the headline and take a closer look.

Strategy Analytics' study found that global Android tablet shipments were distributed across several manufacturers such as Amazon, Samsung and Asus. By comparison Apple sold 43.1 million iPads in 2011, twice as many as Android, according to Apple's own financial numbers. Not to shabby Android.

But here is the thing. There's a massive difference between shipments, which means sold to retailers, and sales, as in how many people actually bought the tablet. Strategy Analytics estimates 66.9 million tablets were shipped in 2011, out of which 23.1 million units were Android tablets, while Apple actually sold 43 million.

So while Apple sells out of its tablets, many Android tablets could sit on shelves waiting for buyers, because the study seems to compare the 15.4 million iPads actually sold in the December quarter to an estimated 10.5 million Android shipped to retailers.

The truth is Apple isn't worried.

"Apple shrugged off the much-hyped threat from entry-level Android models this quarter," explained Peter King, director at Strategy Analytics. Apple itself doesn't subscribe either to the theory that Kindle Fire is a direct threat to the iPad.

Apple CEO Tim Cook said during the company's earnings call this week that he looked at the data in U.S. after the Kindle Fire launch and didn't notice an obvious plus or minus in sales: "Looking at our data, there was no obvious change in the data."

Neil Mawston, executive director at Strategy Analytics, suggested Apple may indeed want to take the Android threat seriously. He says if Android can overcome nagging concerns about fragmentation of Android's operating system and user-interface, and app store ecosystem hurtles it will be a force to be reckoned with. That's a lot of hurtles.

However, the open-source nature of Android also could to be its own enemy in the tablet market. Basically, the Kindle Fire, for example, does run on Android, but you wouldn't be able to tell judging by the almost unrecognizable skinning of the user interface and the lack of the official Android Market, which is replaced by Amazon's own app sore and suite of content services.

If the Kindle Fire is indeed eroding tablet sales, it would be from other Android manufacturers, who are yet to sell a tablet as laden with customized content services and apps, at the same low price as Amazon.

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