Android Tablet Market Share Surged In Q4; iPad Under Attack

According to market analysis firm Strategy Analytics, the number of Android-powered tablets sold in Q4 surged dramatically. In Q3 2010, Android devices held just 2.3 percent of the market compared to the iPad's approximate 95 percent. In Q4, Android's market share increased tenfold; Google's OS accounted for 22 percent of global tablet shipments while the iPad's market share fell to 75 percent.

The iPad is scarcely in danger of being swept away; Apple sold 14.8 million of them in 2010 and is rumored to be prepping the iPad 2 for launch later this year. If the iPad 2.0 is as powerful as predicted (think dual CPUs, dual GPUs, and 1080P support), it'll doubtless sweep at least part of the market back towards Apple's goal posts—at least initially. Strategy Analytics director Neil Mawston expects iPad market share will continue to trend downward throughout 2011 as Android tablets launch and pare away at the iPad's formerly unique features.

"Apple’s volumes will continue to go up, but market share will inevitably go down," Mawston said in an interview. "Even at $500 retail, based on some of the research we’ve done, that’s probably two or three times more than what most mass market consumers are expecting to pay...If you were to ask me in two years time, will Apple have less than 50 percent of the global tablet market, I think that’s a certainty."

If Mawston's projections are accurate we can't help wondering if the $99 Maylong M-150 (reviewed here) was single-handedly responsible for Android's sudden popularity surge. Mawston cites two prime factors to explain the iPad's 'inevitable' market loss. First up, as with all Apple products, there's the price. The cheapest iPad is currently $499 while companies like Acer are planning to release devices that target $299 with theoretically equivalent features. Secondly, there's the fact that the coming Android onslaught will pit multiple products from a number of well-known top tier manufacturers against just the iPad.

Mawston's prediction that the iPad will lose market share in the years to come is logical, but the story itself is built on the implicit assumption that Apple cares/should care about its market share. This might make sense if we were discussing Acer, Asus, or Dell, but Apple is a fundamentally different company. Ever since he returned to the company in 1998, Jobs' top priority has been building the products he wanted with the features he felt were most important. The unique, specific, and occasionally whimsical desires of the company's customers are of secondary importance.

That's not to say that Apple cares nothing for its customers, but the company almost always opts to spend its time ensuring that feature support/functionality is seamlessly integrated into a device as opposed to automatically pushing out the latest and greatest. When Apple is caught with a proven bug, as happened last year with the iPhone 4 debacle, Jobs did everything but take the role of the penitent CEO begging customers to forgive him from on stage.

Apple favors mind share over market share and would much rather hold the coveted "Best in Class" award than the "Most Affordable" appellation. Even when the iPhone 4 was brand new it wasn't the best-featured phone, but it's still the point of comparison for virtually everyone, especially first-time smartphone buyers.

It's a given that the iPad will lose market share as Android and Windows options come to market. Given the company's historic foci, Apple isn't losing any sleep over it and neither should anyone else.