Media tablet unit shipments on a global basis rose 155 percent year-over-year to 28.2 million units in the fourth quarter of 2011, IDC reported Tuesday. Moreover, full-year tablet shipments totaled 68.7 million units in 2011: 40.5 million units running iOS, 26.4 million units powered by Android, and 1.8 million units sporting another tablet OS.
IDC analysts noted that Apple's fourth quarter iPad unit shipments rose 110.5 percent from the same quarter in 2010. However, the holiday season launch in the United States of Amazon's $199 Kindle Fire -- which runs a version of Android underneath its customized user interface -- raised consumer awareness of the product category worldwide, noted Tom Mainelli, research director for connected devices at IDC.
"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," Mainelli said Tuesday.
Android grew its fourth quarter, 2011 market share to 44.6 percent -- up from 32.3 percent in the same quarter of 2010. As a result, Apple's share of the global tablet market slipped from 61.6 percent in the final three months of 2010 to 54.7 percent.
IDC anticipates that media tablet vendors will ship 106.1 million units this year, with Apple expected to once again lead the field by shipping 60 million iPads. Tablets running Android are expected to account for 46.9 million unit shipments, and with an additional 3.2 million units shipping with another tablet OS.
Windows 8 Tablets Excluded
With respect to IDC's long-term forecast, however, the firm estimates that Android will eventually emerge as the tablet market's platform leader. By 2016, the firm expects Google's Android OS to account for 100.8 million unit shipments, followed closely by the 94.7 million iOS units that IDC expects Apple to ship.
"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," said Mainelli. Still, IDC expects "iOS to remain the revenue market share leader through the end of our 2016 forecast period and beyond," Mainelli added.
IDC only envisions 2.7 million tablets shipping in 2016 that will not be running either Android or iOS. In a Wednesday email Mainelli noted that Windows 8 isn't part of the "others" category presented in IDC's latest media tablet forecast.
IDC's current taxonomy places Windows 8 tablet PCs in the firm's PC tracker forecast, Mainelli explained. By contrast, Gartner recently said its tablet category will include devices running Windows 8 once Microsoft delivers its next generation OS to market.
"W8 based tablet devices will not be included under PCs in our research, but will be included under media tablets," said Mika Kitagawa, a principal analyst at Gartner.
An Enterprise Opportunity
Mainelli thinks Microsoft is doing a lot of interesting things with Windows 8, but its success in the tablet market is far from guaranteed.
"I do think Win8 tablet PCs have a tough road ahead," Mainelli said. "The X86-based Win8 tablets will likely cost more than an entry-level iPad, and the ARM-based Win8 tablets will enter the market without the backwards compatibility -- and installed base -- that most people expect from a Windows machine," he explained.
Still, IDC Vice President Al Gillen does see a potential opportunity ahead for Microsoft to succeed in the enterprise segment of the media tablet space.
"Windows 8 will help bridge the demands that end users are placing on IT departments with what IT wants for its business -- a smooth transitional path to add tablet devices into an existing Windows client infrastructure," Gillen said.