The tablet wars seem to be pretty hot these days. But if new numbers are an indication, they're just warming up.
Apple has sold more than 14 million of its iPad, the undisputed industry leader, as of December, but its market share dropped from 95 percent in the third quarter of 2010 to 75 percent the following quarter, according to the research firm Strategy Analytics.
Shipments of Android-powered tablets during the same period rose from 2.3 percent to 21.6 percent. Those market-share figures represent shipments from manufacturers to vendors and not end-user sales, however.
All told, there were more than 17 million tablets shipped globally in 2010, more than half of them, 9.7 million, in the fourth quarter, which included the holiday shopping season. Android tablet shipments were at 2.1 million for that quarter, while only 300,000 devices using other operating systems were shipped.
Galaxy Sales Slow
The Wall Street Journal on Monday noted that sales of the Samsung Galaxy Tab, the most popular tablet that runs Android, were not as stellar as the company hoped. In an earnings call on Friday, Samsung's Lee Young-hee said that two million of the Tabs were shipped by the South Korean manufacturer, and while consumer response "wasn't as fast as we expected, we still believe sell-out was quite OK ... As you know, the tablet is relatively new and we need to see how the market develops before we give any firm numbers."
Still, CNN noted that Apple's financial reports showed a slowdown of the iPad's success in the last quarter of 2010, with 525,000 more iPads left unsold than in the previous quarter.
"When Apple introduced the iPad, there was no one else worthy of discussing on the market yet," said Michael Gartenberg of Gartner Research. "So even though people are reporting changes in the market share, you are still talking about a very early market. You expect to see competition. You don't expect to see Apple hold a 90 percent market share."
The figures come as Google on Wednesday is expected to debut Android 3.0, code-named Honeycomb, its first operating system optimized for the larger screens of the tablet form factor. The Tab and other Android-powered tablets -- with the exception of Motorola's Xoom -- have been running version 2.2 or 2.3, intended for smartphones.
In addition to boosting the performance of applications, Honeycomb supports 3-D graphics and multi-core processor architecture.
Wait and See
"Whether the next generation of Android presents any significant threat to the next generation of the iPad, we'll have to wait and see," said Gartenberg.
Apple has yet to offer any hints about the next-generation iPad, but it's widely believed it will have a dual-core processor, front- and back-facing cameras, and an upgraded display.
Competitors will depend on the user interface, performance, the availability of apps, and price. "They are going to have to show why they are here and why I should buy this ... and what they can do relative to the most popular device on the market, which is now the iPad," said Gartenberg.
While the speed of a multi-core processor may be a feature, he added, "it's more about who has the app I want, who has the cool form factor, who has the content I want to watch. That's what consumers care about."