IDC: Apple leads tablet market, Amazon e-readers

IDC ereaders Q310

Today, IDC initiated coverage of the media tablet and e-reader markets, ranking Apple and Amazon leaders in their categories, respectively. Reporting on two separate product markets in one release is unusual for IDC. But it makes sense. So-called media tablets and e-readers will likely become one category in the not-so-distant future.

What's more interesting is IDC's tablet definition. In October, I observed that if iPad counted as a personal computer, Apple would likely meet or beat top-ranked HP in Q3 US PC market share. IDC has decided iPad isn't a PC, but Tablet PC would be one.

"Media tablets are tablet form factor devices with color displays larger than 5 inches and smaller than 14 inches running lightweight operating systems (such as Apple's iOS and Google's Android OS) and can be based on either x86 or ARM processors," according to IDC. "By contrast, tablet PCs run full PC operating systems and are based on x86 processors." Oh yeah? So what happens when Windows 7's successor supports ARM processors, or did IDC analysts somehow miss Microsoft's big announcement during the Consumer Electronics Show two weeks ago?

By IDC's media tablet definition, iPad had 87.4 percent global market share during third quarter 2010, based on 4.2 million units shipped. IDC predicts that media tablet shipments ended the year with 17 million units shipped. Market-leader Apple will shed some perspective on the final number when announcing holiday quarter earnings later today.

For 2011, IDC forecasts 44.6 million media tablets shipped, with the US accounting for about 40 percent of them, and 70.8 million units in 2011. "Growth in 2011 and beyond will be driven by device vendors introducing media tablets based on Android and other operating systems, as well as price and feature competition and strong demand in both the consumer and commercial segments," according to IDC. Oh? So what about the iPad dominance I keep reading about. Gasp, could Apple-hooting bloggers, journalists and Wall Street analysts be wrong?

Amazon dominated the e-reader market with 41.5 percent market share, based on 1.1 million shipments during Q3 2010. Pandigital beat out Barnes and Noble -- 16.1 percent to 15.4 percent, respectively. IDC predicts 10.8 million e-readers shipped for all 2010, with the United States accounting for 72.4 percent of the total. The analyst firm expects 14.7 million e-readers shipped this year and 16.6 million in 2012.

There remains the question of definition. I understand that analyst firms like IDC get paid for counting things and doing analysis around the numbers. The more things IDC counts, the more it can charge clients. But are all these categories really necessary when there is so much overlapping functionality, particularly among e-readers, smartphones and tablets? That's a question I pose to you. Please answer in comments.

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