Android Begins to Seize Tablets, First Challenge to iPad

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It is more difficult by the day to determine whether Google (NASDAQ: GOOG) Android powered devices have gained some edge against Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL). New ABI Research information shows that Android has begun to make the kind of progress with tablet PCs that it did with smartphones. Apple’s dominance of the tablet market may not last for as long as many analysts expected.

ABI reports that “Android media tablets have collectively taken 20% market share away from the iPad in the last 12 months.” Android’s advance is due to its presence on a number of smartphone products, while Apple’s is based on its single machine.

As the tablet PC market expands, Apple will end up with the same challenge it has in the smartphone business. Products from a half a dozen manufacturers with a significant presence in smartphones have advanced. This includes those made by HTC, Motorola (NYSE: MMI) and Samsung. Among them, their products now have about a third of the global smartphone OS market.

The growth of the Android OS on tablets likely will be halting. Ironically, it could be helped as marginally successful tablet producers cut costs in the hope of a gain in market share. It will not matter that these firms may lose money on each unit they ship. Apple needs to be concerned about what all market leaders do. Many companies that try to topple an entrenched leader do not act rationally. The stupidity of its competitors may be the thing Apple needs to be most concerned about.

The question has been raised often whether the growth in Android market share is a threat to Apple. iPhone sales double in many quarters, compared to the previous year. That is impressive, but without Android as competition, it could be argued that Apple would do even better

Apple’s greatest threat from Android may be that the more companies that use the OS, the more innovation that comes from the development process. The Android OS is open source, so it costs handset and tablet PC firms nothing. Each company that uses the OS adds some level of innovation. Of these, the greatest threat to Apple may be a proliferation in 4G powered smartphones. Apple does not have a tablet or smartphone product that works with the rapidly growing wireless system.

Apple advocates say that the Android competition is fragmented. That is true, but the sum of those fragments has grown quickly and will continue to do so. Not every single tablet product will reach the point of profitability, but they will claw at Apple in the meantime.

Douglas A. McIntyre

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