Active Android Tablets May Soon Pass Apple’s iPad: Does It Matter?

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Source: Thinkstock

Source: Thinkstock

The number of active Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) iPads is expected to be surpassed by the number of active Android-based tablets this year, according to market research firm ABI Research. Apple has long dominated the worldwide tablet market in total shipment numbers for an OEM (original equipment manufacturer) brand, as well as in the total number of active devices. In other words, Apple sells more tablets than any other vendor and its iPads are used more than any other vendor’s devices. ABI Research noted that the anticipated increase in the installed base of Android tablets will make 2014 a “watershed” year for the tablet market.

According to data from ABI Research, the combined unit shipments for Android-based tablets overtook Apple’s iOS-based iPads for the first time in the second quarter of 2013. However, even as the combined sales from multiple Android tablet vendors pulled ahead of Apple’s iPad sales, the Cupertino-based company still maintained a dominating lead in the number of active devices. Apple CEO Tim Cook highlighted this crucial statistic during the company’s fiscal 2013 third quarter earnings call by citing the iPad’s majority share of tablet-based Web traffic. “[I]f there are lots of other tablets selling I don’t know what they are being used for because that’s a pretty, the basic function is web browser,” observed Cook.

While ABI Research believes that Android will take the installed base lead from Apple this year, the market research firm also pointed out that Apple is still expected to remain the leading OEM brand in 2014. “Looking back over the past three years of the tablet boom, the leading vendor order has remained largely unchanged,” noted ABI Research’s Jeff Orr. “Lenovo is the most obvious standout as it has executed tablet strategy well both in China and abroad.”

The iPad maker took a 45 percent share of worldwide tablet shipments in 2013 and Samsung (SSNLF.PK) remained Apple’s nearest OEM brand competitor with a 23 percent share, according to ABI Research. While unit shipments in the overall tablet market declined by 30 percent in the first quarter of 2014, ABI Research believes growth will resume later this year.

“Tablet hardware sales from branded OEMs are likely to top US$85 billion this year,” wrote Orr. “We have yet to reach the top of the tablet market and with many world regions just now starting to adopt, the best is yet to come.” As noted by ABI Research, much of the growth in the tablet market is expected to come from emerging markets such as China, where many low-end “white box” tablets are made and sold.

Considering that that the increase in the number of active Android tablets appears to come from the low-end segment of the tablet market, the so-called “tipping point” in the tablet market’s installed base may not qualify as a watershed moment. Apple’s iPad is a relatively expensive tablet that falls into the high-end of the tablet market. In this sense, the growth of the Android tablet installed base will most likely increase pressure on other established Android tablet makers such as Samsung, rather than Apple.

Meanwhile, Apple’s iPad continues to account for the lion’s share of tablet-based Web traffic in the crucial North American market. According to the latest data from online ad network company Chitika, Apple’s iPad accounted for over 77 percent of all U.S. and Canadian tablet-based Web traffic in April 2014. With a dominating installed base lead in North America and a significant lead in worldwide OEM hardware sales, it appears that Apple’s iPad will continue to be the overall tablet market leader in 2014.

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