The Tablet Market

ComScore recently announced that the Kindle Fire represented 54.4% of all Android(-based) tablets. Many took this is as insight into the degree to which Google has last control of the Android tablet space, and this may well be a fair assessment, but I looked at this as a unique chance to estimate the units in use of many of the most popular Android tablets.

Google periodically announces the absolute number of Android devices sold and/or the activation rate, so we can estimate how many devices are being used by consumers at any given time (not merely sitting on store shelves, as may be the case for shipment numbers provided by some vendors). We also know the version distribution of all Android devices, which Google updates monthly. Finally, thanks to ComScore, we have an idea of the relative share of total Android tablet traffic attributable to several of the most popular devices.

The trick here is to take the total number of Android devices on the Honeycomb version of Android and divide it by the percentage of the top Android tablets listed by ComScore that are still on Honeycomb. This will give us the total number of Android tablets (as some are on previous or later versions of the OS than Honeycomb, or don’t count in Google’s version share numbers at all, as is the case for the Kindle Fire), from which we can calculate individual devices’ shares. If you are interested in the data (and estimates/ adjustments used), fell free to download it here.

Words can only say so much; let’s take a look at the estimated number of Android units in use (not necessarily equivalent to sales or shipments) from December 2011 to February 2012:

Android Tablets by Month

It’s clear that Amazon has taken a dominant role within the market over the past few months. It may be reasonable to question where Amazon has succeeded when companies like Samsung (who is doing so well in the mobile phone space) essentially failed. If I were to put on my Asymco hat for a moment, I would say that the Fire has succeeded not by being a superior product, but by disrupting on the level of its business model. The content-subsidized model that allows Amazon to so spectacularly undercut most other tablets on price has clearly been successful in carving out a niche of this burgeoning market, and performing some job for the consumer that is satisfied (or, better satisfied) by the Fire. Whether this model is economically viable in the log term, though, is yet to be seen.

The Android tablet market, particularly when Kindle is included, is actually doing far better than I would have anticipated given the historically weak Honeycomb version share. With 28 million units out there, it is certainly large enough, though it is split into tiny shares for individual devices if we exclude the Fire. I began questioning the dominance of the iPad in the larger tablet market. The following two charts soothed these concerns:

Android Against iPad by Month

All Tablets Stacked Area

The first chart shows the units in use of the iPad compared to the sum of all Android tablets. The second shows the same data, but as percentages of the entire market.

Based on some data indicating an immaterial share for tablet platforms not named iOS and Android, these charts are close proxies for the entire tablet market. The iPad has maintained 70% share, and doesn’t look to be losing it in any significant way. Given Apple’s incredible economies of scale and the lower prices of many Android tablets it is reasonable to assume that Apple controls a higher proportion of tablet market profits than the 73% of mobile phone profits they took in the most recent quarter. And, when all is said and done, that is the only fair measure of business.

The last piece of this analysis might be to compare the numbers to other available data in order to assess the estimates’ reasonability. Unfortunately, most analysts provide data on shipments, not sales or units in use, which is what I have measured above. I would argue that shipments data is nowhere near as valuable as the number of actual devices being used, so I will stick by my “units in use” data as being a more defensible way to look at the market. After all, companies are not benefited by their stock sitting on store shelves; consumers actually need to be using a device for the platform to grow.

As usual, the data for this post is available here. If you would like to discuss this post (or anything else), feel free to follow me on Twitter.