iPad market share plunged 20 percent in Q4 2010

IDC walloped and bear hugged Apple a day before iPad 2 officially goes on sale. During fourth-quarter 2010, iPad market share fell from 93 percent to 73 percent sequentially, according to the analyst firm. However, IDC expects iPad market share to remain in the 70 percent to 80 percent range throughout 2011. Additionally, IDC released data on ebook reader shipments, which more than doubled quarter on quarter to 12.8 million units.For all 2010, 18 million tablets shipped, with iPad capturing 83 percent market share.

Well, so much for the nearly 100 tablet contenders. Then again, these mobile device markets are so fast changing, it's hard to trust any analysts' projections, particularly when there is no consensus on definitions. For example, Canalys and NPD DisplaySearch classify tablets like iPad as PCs. IDC does not. It's definition: "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. By contrast, tablet PCs run full PC operating systems and are based on x86 processors."

IDC's numbers are as perplexing as its definitions. Previously, IDC put Apple's third quarter 2010 market share at 87.4 percent, so how did it decline from 93 percent? The 73 percent share is easy math. IDC said that 10.1 million tablets shipped in fourth quarter; Apple reported 7.3 million iPads shipped during same quarter.

"Strong holiday sales of media tablets were in line with IDC projections and strong consumer interest in the category while device vendors scrambled to offer products competitive with Apple's iPad and now iPad 2," Loren Loverde, IDC vice president, said in a statement.

Most of the remaining 17 percent share went to Samsung's Galaxy Tab. However, IDC records shipments into the channel, rather than sales out to customers. The analyst firm noted that while Samsung aggressively shipped the 7-inch Galaxy Tab, iPad competition and higher pricing hurt sales.

The analyst firm predicts 50 million tablet shipments during 2011. If Apple only takes 70 percent market share it would ship 35 million tablets, leaving 15 million for the horde of contenders. There simply isn't large enough market for even a dozen major competitors, let alone 100. So many of the hot slates demoed during January's Consumer Electronics Show are sure to fail.

Three regions -- Asia/Pacific (excluding Japan), Europe and the United States -- accounted for 89 percent of Q4 tablet shipments. Sales to Europe nudged up from third to fourth quarter but nearly doubled in Asia/Pacific. In a foreshadowing development, the number of tablets sold through telcos jumped from a paltry 1 percent to 14 percent between quarters. I see this as a bad development, as long as telecos either fail to subsidize prices or offer contract-binding subsidies that keep selling prices above contract-free iPad. It's no coincidence that 14 percent telco sales is close to the 17 percent share for non-iPads. Most of the newer competing tablets are sold through telcos -- the Galaxy Tab among them.

Regarding ebook readers, Amazon easily held its market share lead -- 48 percent. Unlike Q3, IDC did not release more specific shipment information, including number of units. Barnes & Noble Nookcolor ranked second, but no units or market share was disclosed.

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