Quantity vs. Quality: Android Floods Market, Slowly Erodes Apple’s Domination of Tablets, IDC Says

Worldwide tablet shipments rose more than 56% quarter-over-quarter at the end of 2011 to over 28 million units, according to the International Data Corporation’s Worldwide Quarterly Media Tablet and eReader Tracker. That marks a 155% boost year-over-year, IDC says.

2011 saw nearly 70 million units shipped. In 2012, IDC expects more than 100 million units to ship. This forecast has been upped considerably from its initial estimate of less than 90 million.

Amazon shipped just under five million Kindle Fire units, much higher than most Android tablets but far less than Apple’s 15-million-plus iPads that sold in the fourth quarter. Apple still holds well over half of the global tablet marketshare, despite dozens of lower-cost competitors flooding the market, IDC says. Even though Apple’s marketshare dropped slightly, its sales skyrocketed, and no single device came even close to the popularity of the iPad last year.

“As the sole vendor shipping iOS products, Apple will remain dominant in terms of worldwide vendor unit shipments,” said Tom Mainelli, research director, Mobile Connected Devices. “However, the sheer number of vendors shipping low-priced, Android-based tablets means that Google’s OS will overtake Apple’s in terms of worldwide market share by 2015. We expect iOS to remain the revenue market share leader through the end of our 2016 forecast period and beyond.”

Once thought to be Apple’s greatest tablet competitor, Samsung stagnated, growing its marketshare by only a fraction of a percent, from 5.5% to 5.8%. Meanwhile, the embattled Barnes & Noble lost one percent, slipping to just 3.5% of the market.

“Amazon’s widely-reported entry into the media tablet market with a $199, 7-inch product seemed to raise consumers’ awareness of the category worldwide despite the fact that the Fire shipped almost exclusively in the U.S. in the fourth quarter,” said Tom Mainelli, research director, Mobile Connected Devices. “As a result, products across the pricing spectrum sold well, including everything from Apple’s premium-priced iPads (which start at $499) to Pandigital’s line of Android-based, entry-level tablets (which start at $120). The success of market leader Apple was particularly noteworthy, as the company’s shipment total for the quarter represents an increase of 110.5% from 4Q10.”

On a Canadian note, Waterloo-based Research In Motion didn’t fare too well in IDC’s report. Its BlackBerry PlayBook dropped from an already puny 1.1% in Q3 to a very anemic 0.7% in Q4. HP’s now-sort-of-but-maybe-not defunct WebOS plunged from 5% to 0% in a single quarter.