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Did the iPad really lose a big chunk of share to Android?

Apple's iPad seems unstoppable. But there are some head-scratching market research numbers that pop up every quarter. So, are Android tablets actually taking market share from Apple?

Almost all market indicators show that the iPad continues to shut out Android rivals. But is that the whole story?

First, let's take a look at some recent headlines that seem to point to the iPad's unassailable market position:

iPad, iOS adoption heating up the business world
Apple's iPad surpasses 100,000 app mark
Apple's Runaway Train: 9.25 Million iPads, 20 Million iPhones sold in Q3
All the world's an iPad? Maybe
Apple iPad awaits back-to-school boom

These kinds of stories (of which there are way too many to count) are not encouraging for forward sales of Android tablets like the Motorola Xoom, the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1, the Lenovo ThinkPad tablet, or the Acer Iconia, among others. The 100,000 apps mark headline especially stings.

But wait. Dig a little more and this recent headline pops up: iPad share of tablet shipments fell in second quarter, says report. The story continues. "For the second quarter of the year, Apple grabbed 61 percent of the global tablet business, shipping a record 9.3 million iOS-based tablets. Though still a healthy chunk, that number was down from the 94 percent share the company scooped up a year ago."

Are these numbers representative of Android's growing market strength in tablets?
Are these numbers representative of Android's growing market strength in tablets? Strategy Analytics

So, what's going on here? Are we at last seeing some real market gains by Android? It appears that the key metric is sell-out. Apple undoubtedly sells out all the iPads it can make. Is that the case for Android tablets? Sell-in numbers are notable, but what about sell-out?

The latter--also referred to as sell-through--appears to be murky for Android. That said, Android sell-in (shipment) numbers may increase as more large players enter the market, like Lenovo and Sony.

Which raises the question, will bigger sell-in translate to large Android sell-out numbers? Android, after all, does have maker momentum (if not market momentum). Name all of the top device makers in the world and pretty much every one of them is selling Android tablets or will sell them soon. Samsung, Sony, Motorola, Lenovo, LG, Acer, HTC, and Asus.

That market clout is already manifested in the U.S. via a phalanx of kiosks and displays at Best Buy and Staples proclaiming that Android tablets have arrived. (And count Hewlett-Packard among those making a big tablet-market play.)

And the Android camp's decibel level is rising every month--and it will only get louder. Will that noise be enough eventually to distract more consumers and make them tune in to Android? Just visit a major U.S. electronics retailer now and you may get your answer.