According to the latest market study by International Data Corporation (IDC), worldwide media tablet shipments into sales channels grew by 56.1 percent on a sequential basis in the fourth calendar quarter of 2011 (4Q11) to 28.2 million units.
That represents an increase of 155 percent from the fourth quarter of 2010. 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.
Based upon the strong 2011 results, and the clear demand expected in 2012, IDC has increased its 2012 forecast to 106.1 million units -- that's up from its previous forecast of 87.7 million units.
Despite an impressive debut by Amazon, which shipped 4.7 million Kindle Fires into the market, Apple continued to see strong growth in the quarter, shipping 15.4 million units in 4Q11, up from 11.1 million units in 3Q11. That represents a 54.7 percent worldwide market share (down from 61.5 percent in 3Q11).
Amazon's shipment total put the company in second place with 16.8 percent of the worldwide market. Third-place Samsung grew its share from 5.5 percent in 3Q11 to 5.8 percent in 4Q11.
Despite shipping more units, including its new Nook Tablet, Barnes & Noble saw its worldwide market share slip to 3.5 percent (down from 4.5 percent). Pandigital rounded out the top five, grabbing 2.5 percent of the market, down from 2.9 percent the previous quarter.
"Amazon's widely-reported entry into the media tablet market with a $199, 7-inch product seemed to raise consumer awareness of the category worldwide despite the fact that the Fire shipped almost exclusively in the U.S. in the fourth quarter," said Tom Mainelli, research director, Mobile Connected Devices at IDC.
As a result, products across the pricing spectrum sold well, including everything from Apple's premium-priced iPads (which start at $499) to Pandigital's line of Android-based, entry-level tablets (which start at $120). The success of market leader Apple was particularly noteworthy, as the company's shipment total for the quarter represents an increase of 110.5 percent from 4Q10.
As predicted, Android made some strong gains in 4Q11 -- thanks in large part to the Amazon Kindle Fire's success (the Fire runs a custom version of Google's Android OS). Android grew its market share from 32.3 percent in 3Q11 to 44.6 percent in 4Q11.
As a result, Apple iOS slipped from 61.6 percent market share to 54.7 percent; Blackberry slipped from 1.1 percent to 0.7 percent. WebOS, which owned 5 percent of the worldwide market in 3Q11, dropped to zero in 4Q11.
Looking ahead, IDC expects Google Android to continue to grow its share of the media tablet market at the expense of Apple iOS.
"As the sole vendor shipping iOS products, Apple will remain dominant in terms of worldwide vendor unit shipments," Mainelli said. "However, the sheer number of vendors shipping low-priced, Android-based tablets means that Google's OS will overtake Apple's in terms of worldwide market share by 2015. We expect iOS to remain the revenue market share leader through the end of our 2016 forecast period and beyond."
Despite the strong growth of media tablet shipments, ePaper-based eReaders also experienced stronger-than-expected growth in the fourth quarter. That growth occurred thanks to sharp price cuts in established markets such as the U.S. and Canada, as well as increasing shipments in regions outside of North America.
In 4Q11 the worldwide total increased to 10.7 million units, up from 6.5 million units in 3Q11. That represents a quarter-over-quarter improvement of 64.6 percent and a year-over-year improvement of 64.3 percent.
IDC expects growth to continue in 2012 as major players such as Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Kobo look to expand into new international markets.