Android tablet shipments growing, but what about sales? [video]

Yesterday Bloomberg reported on tablet numbers, revealing that Android accounted for 22% of global tablet shipments in the last 3 months of 2010, an almost 10-fold increase. The iPad accounted for 75%, down from 95% in the prior quarter.

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Impressive numbers at first glance, but note that Bloomberg is talking about shipments, not sales. Coincidentally the Wall Street Journal's blog ran a post about Android tablets yesterday, too. In this case the WSJ was focusing on Samsung's Galaxy Tab. Samsung has announced that it shipped 2 million tablets by early January, but again that's shipments to the stores, not sales. When pressed about actual sales to consumers, Samsung executive Lee Young-hee said those numbers were "quite small" without giving specifics. That explains the continual erosion of the price of the Galaxy Tab since launch. So what, if anything, does this all mean? Are big box stores just filling their warehouses with unsold Android tablets, or are Android tablets other than the Galaxy Tab selling through? One wonders if Bloomberg counts the Barnes & Noble NookCOLOR in their numbers. B&N said the NookCOLOR was their top-selling item over the holidays (via Electronista), though again it's hard to get a sense of what that means in actual numbers. Whatever the situation now, Bloomberg quotes analyst firm Strategy Analytics director Neil Mawston as saying "If you were to ask me in two years time, will Apple have less than 50 percent of the global tablet market, I think that’s a certainty." In the shorter term Mawston says that iPad sales will continue to grow, but its market share will erode. Even after a year of hype about Android tablets, it's still early days for the platform. Motorola is planning a Superbowl ad touting the Xoom Android tablet (which it teased yesterday – see below); clearly they're serious about building market share and I won't be surprised if we look back on that ad as the point where John Q Public started learning that there were alternatives to Apple's iPad available. The Xoom is going to be too expensive to be a truly mass-market item (in the same way the iPad is too expensive) but later this spring we'll start seeing $300 tablets, and I expect quality $200 tablets by Holiday 2011 (consider the NookCOLOR is $249 now and can be rooted into a decent Android tablet). At that point these tablets start hitting the 'impulse buy' threshold for a much wider range of people, and sales could really take off. Will Apple adjust its pricing to compete? Does John Q Public even want a tablet? Stay tuned! [Update: There's been some confusion over the quote from Samsung's Lee Young-hee. Apparently she said sales were "quite smooth" rather than "quite small," according to Samsunghub.com.]

Peter Smith writes about personal technology for ITworld. Follow him on Twitter @pasmith.

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