March 13, 2012, 3:32 PM — Remember last year when some guy from Microsoft wondered aloud whether tablets are a passing fad?
Turns out they may not be.
The latest research from International Data Corp. shows that, if tablets are a fad, we have some way to go before it plays out.
Global tablet shipments into sales channels were 28.2 million units in the fourth quarter, an increase of 56.1% from the third quarter and a year-over-year gain of 155%, IDC reports.
"The market experienced stronger-than-expected growth across many regions and at many price points, leading to a full-year 2011 total of 68.7 million units," IDC said in a press release.
The research firm previously had forecast 2012 tablet shipments of 87.7 million units, but the strong fourth quarter (and, likely, Apple's new iPad) prompted IDC to jack up that forecast to 106.1 million units. That would represent an annual increase of 54% from 2011.
While Apple continued to dominate the tablet sector -- it shipped 15.4 million iPads in Q4, or 54.7% of the global market (down from 61.5% in the third quarter) -- Amazon.com's Kindle Fire leaped into second place with 4.7 million units shipped, or 16.8% of the global total.
Tom Mainelli, IDC's research director for mobile connected devices, said the Kindle Fire seems to have sparked overall interest in tablets.
"Amazon's widely reported entry into the media tablet market with a $199, 7-inch product seemed to raise consumers' awareness of the category worldwide despite the fact that the Fire shipped almost exclusively in the U.S. in the fourth quarter," Mainelli said. "As a result, products across the pricing spectrum sold well."
Third-place Samsung saw its share of the global tablet market inch up to 5.8% in Q4 from 5.5% in the third quarter, IDC reported, while Barnes & Noble's Nook Tablet slipped to 3.5% from 4.5% in Q3.
In terms of tablet operating systems, Apple's iOS retained the lead with 54.7%, down from 61.6% in Q3, while shipments of tablets powered by Google's Android mobile OS jumped to 44.6% from 32.3% in Q3.
Shipments of Research in Motion's PlayBook tablet slipped to 0.7% from 1.1% in the third quarter. The comeback is around the corner, I tell you!