Holiday shopping for a tablet? Android has an advantage

Donovan Colbert thinks the skepticism about Android's traction in the tablet market was premature. He predicts even greater tablet market growth for Android this coming holiday season.

A few months ago, I was disheartened with the Android platform and the general tone in the press about Android tablet market penetration. At the time, the picture was not rosy. Many tech writers were busy explaining how the tablet market was not like the phone or media player markets and that the strengths of Android that made it successful as a smartphone platform would not translate to tablet sales. Others knocked the Android hardware as lacking the finish and polish of the wonder tablet from Cupertino.

All of these reasons and more resulted in a generally lackluster arrival of the Android tablet on the market. I voiced the cautiously optimistic possibility that the numbers we were looking at then did not reflect the actual activity of market sales of Android (and other) tablets.

In one of my previous posts, "Android tablets could still transform the market," I discussed some of the disappointing numbers that were being thrown around — like 95% of enterprise users were choosing the iPad, Android devices were seeing 30-40% return rates, and that the iPad was outselling Android 24 to 1. My argument was that a slow and rocky start, compounded by a flawed and disappointing flagship Android tablet (the Motorola Xoom), really hurt the initial reception of Android on the tablet platform.

It was easy for Apple to dominate with nearly 100% of the tablet market when there were no other alternatives available, except for questionable devices from Viewsonic and Koby retailing at Sears and K-Mart. However, after Android's rough start, other Android tablet manufacturers started getting their act together, such as Acer with its A500 Iconia and ASUS with the TF101 Transformer.

My trips into Best Buy indicated that the Android tablet section was not only exploding as far as choices, but it was seeing decent activity, too. It also seemed like the iPad 2 wasn't getting exactly the same kind of rabid attention that the iPad 1 had received. On any day, I could go in and pick up any capacity of iPad 2 or Acer Iconia. The ASUS Transformer, however, was selling out as fast as stock was coming in — at least for awhile. Shortly thereafter, expanded tablet displays started showing up at Office Max, Staples, and other retailers.

You're going to have trouble matching a vendor with direct retail sales channels if you don't have any competitive product in the retail channel, and the numbers we were working with several months ago were taken from an atmosphere that was exactly that. The competition that was being accounted for was the original Samsung Galaxy Tab and the Xoom. Although a newer batch of Android tablets had arrived, it was clear that they hadn't been available long enough to gather meaningful data about their affect on the tablet market.

CNN recently ran a story about smaller, cheaper tablets that discussed what the Kindle Fire and the Nook Color might do to the tablet market. But more important to me, it included some hard sales data about Android sales:

"The tablet market is growing fast, and its dynamics are shifting quickly. According to a new report from Strategy Analytics, in the last year Android tablets grew from 2% of the global tablet market to 27%. Meanwhile, the iPad's global tablet market share has dropped from 96% to 67%."

There we go! This is more like it, and aligns much better with what I observed at big-box, brick-and-mortar retailers. Android tablets are slowly building momentum, even though they still have some significant challenges in competing with the iPad. I've been honest in describing those concerns in several of my previous posts. I'm not giving Android any free passes or ignoring honest flaws, but the growth is undeniable.

Android tablets are selling, and its 27% market growth came without impacting the total number of iPad units. Apple's market share dropped from 96% to 67%, but its total unit numbers remained the same. That means that the tablet market GREW, and it grew to support Android tablets in a very statistically significant way.

You can't deny the numbers here, and they should remove all doubts. Android will be successful and have a place in a booming, developing tablet market. It may not replace the iPad, but it will co-exist as an alternative. Unlike the situation between Bugs Bunny and Yosemite Sam, I believe this town is big enough for the both of ‘em.

In any case, the doom and gloom about the traction of Android in the tablet market seems to have been premature. As we enter into the holiday buying season, I think the numbers will only grow. We're already hearing about the 2nd generation of Android tablets, and they look pretty nice — they have quad core processors, plus they're easier to upgrade, have more expandability, and cost less than the iPad 2.

I predict that we'll see even bigger numbers on the other side of Black Friday and the post-Christmas sales for Android, and an even smaller number for total market share of tablet sales for Apple. In a season of discounting and sales incentives, the Android platform has an advantage that Apple will find difficult to compete with.


Donovan Colbert has over 16 years of experience in the IT Industry. He's worked in help-desk, enterprise software support, systems administration and engineering, IT management, and is a regular contributor for TechRepublic. Currently, his profession...

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