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Android tablets approach tipping point, mimic smartphone rise

by Kristen Nicole

Google’s winning smartphone strategy was to make Android open source and invite anyone and everyone to create a device for their mobile platform. It worked, as HTC, Motorola and others jumped on the opportunity to create smartphones to rival the iPhone. However, the market was reset when Apple released the iPad. Yet another game-changer, the iPad set new standards for tablets, and is already prepping for a third generation release. All the while, Google’s been building an Android platform designed for tablets, eventually releasing Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich towards the end of last year. While Android’s been unable to topple iOS in the tablet arena, the tides are finally starting to turn as Android’s tablet market share rose to 39 percent in the fourth quarter of 2011.

According to Strategy Analytics, that’s up from 29 percent in the year-earlier period. The iPad still accounted for 68.2 percent of tablet sales, but the pattern is following a path similar to the smartphone market since the iPhone was first released in 2007.

“In other words, Android tablets are rising at broadly the same rate as Android smartphones did in the past,” says Neil Mawston, executive director of the global wireless practice of Strategy Analytics.

That’s good news for device makers, who have been anxious to release better Android tablets into the market. Price is certainly a factor, with gadgets like the Amazon Kindle Fire appealing to a broad range of consumers. Companies like Samsung have been able to rise to the top of the Android competition with one of the best iPad alternatives in terms of features. And while Samsung faces a slew of patent infringement lawsuits from Apple, Android OEMs can apply some of the lessons learned from their smartphone experiences, making improvements in their tablet strategies moving forward.

Tablets boost the mobile market

More Android tablets could be a boost for carriers as well, which rely on a diverse mobile device line up to draw in consumers. AT&T may have lost a few billion in the failed T-Mobile merger, but the wireless provider still managed to beat Wall Street’s expectations last quarter with total revenue of $32.5 billion, an increase of 3.6 percent from the same period last year. AT&T had its best-ever quarter for smartphones, setting records for Android and iPhone activations. If tablets truly are to follow the smartphone market, networks like AT&T will be able to further their revenue streams around tablets and data plans over the next few quarters.