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iPad dominates tablet market, but Android is closing fast

A new report from research firm Strategy Analytics finds Apple's iPad owns 58 percent of the tablet space, but Android devices now have 39 percent share.

Apple's iPad is still the dominant tablet.
Apple's iPad is still the dominant tablet.

It wasn't long ago that Apple owned nearly 70 percent of the global tablet market. But now, the company is just barely holding on to half the space.

During the fourth quarter of 2011, 10.5 million Android-based tablets shipped worldwide, helping them secure 39.1 percent of the market, according to new data from research firm Strategy Analytics. Apple's iPad, meanwhile, was able to hold on to the top spot, shipping 15.4 million units worldwide and capturing 57.6 percent of the tablet market. Interestingly, Microsoft nabbed the third spot with 1.5 percent share, thanks to Windows running on 400,000 tablets shipped last quarter.

But it's Android's rise that is perhaps the biggest story in the tablet market last quarter. For well over a year now, it has been believed that the iPad can fend off Android, due mainly to the general inability on the part of Apple's competitors to come up with a highly sought-after alternative. Back in the fourth quarter of 2010, the numbers seemed to prove that point, as Apple secured 68.2 percent of the tablet space, and Android devices came in second with just 29 percent share.

However, last year, Amazon launched the Kindle Fire, arguably the most successful Android tablet yet. And according to Strategy Analytics, that device, which costs just $199, was flanked by a host of other Android tablets consumers are finally starting to find appealing.

"Dozens of Android models distributed across multiple countries by numerous brands such as Amazon, Samsung, Asus and others have been driving volumes," Strategy analytics executive director Neil Mawston said today in a statement. "Android is so far proving relatively popular with tablet manufacturers despite nagging concerns about fragmentation of Android's operating system, user-interface and app store ecosystem."

Still, Strategy Analytics' findings aren't necessarily a fair fight. Apple only sells a single tablet, while Android's market share is based on all the devices shipped worldwide by a slew of vendors. It's also worth noting that Strategy Analytics' data is based on unit shipments for Android vendors, but in Apple's case, the 15.4 million units shipped worldwide were actually sold. Given all that, it's not a stretch to say Apple has put a huge valley between itself and its closest competitors.

Regardless of which company is leading the way, it's clear tablets are taking hold in a big way worldwide. According to Strategy Analytics, 26.8 million tablets hit store shelves last quarter, and 66.9 million shipped worldwide in all of 2011. In 2010, 18.6 million tablets shipped globally.