Media tablets on pace to ship 50m in 2011

11 Mar 2011

Some 10.1m tablet computers shipped in Q4 – double the number that shipped in Q3, says IDC. Apple’s iPad share came down from 93pc to 73pc, with Samsung’s Galaxy Tab a distant but only competitor with 17pc of the world market.

The e-reader market also picked up significantly in the fourth quarter. Strong sales of Amazon’s Kindle, which was refreshed in August and priced more aggressively, as well as significant gains from competitors such as Pandigital, Barnes & Noble, Hanvon and Sony among others, contributed to market growth.

In Q4, the e-reader market more than doubled volume from the previous quarter, with more than 6m units shipped for the quarter, bringing the full-year total to 12.8m units shipped. E-reader shipments were also up more than 325pc from 2009, when roughly 3m units shipped. The strong growth reflects a more competitive offering, as well as widening interest in the category, including a boost from media tablet press and much lower pricing.

“Strong holiday sales of media tablets were in line with IDC projections and strong consumer interest in the category, while device vendors scrambled to offer products competitive with Apple’s iPad and now iPad 2,” said Loren Loverde, vice-president, Consumer Device Trackers.

“Media tablets are on pace to reach shipments of roughly 50m units in 2011.”

IDC defines media tablets as tablet form factor devices with colour displays larger than 5 inches and smaller than 14 inches running lightweight operating systems (such as Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android OS) and can be based on either x86 or ARM processors. By contrast, tablet PCs run full PC operating systems and are based on x86 processors.

Media tablets support multiple connectivity technologies and a broad range of applications, which differentiates them from single purpose–focused devices such as e-readers. Media tablet market evolution will be driven not only by product introductions from PC, consumer electronics and mobile phone vendors, but also by expanded distribution channels (with mobile operators playing a key role) and commercial adoption by businesses.

According to IDC, the United States, Western Europe and Asia/Pacific (excluding Japan) regions accounted for 89pc of all media tablet shipments in Q4. Although the US remained the largest country market, Western Europe and Asia/Pacific (excluding Japan) grew almost twice as fast from Q3 to Q4 and Western Europe saw a slightly larger jump in shipments in Q4.

In Q4, retailers were the channel with the highest share of shipments, followed by direct and telco sales. A new channel for media tablets, the telco operators, accounted for nearly 14pc of all shipments of media tablets in Q4 following just more than 1pc share in the third quarter.

Media tablets outlook

Apple is building on its strong 2010 first-generation iPad launch with the iPad 2, which will ship this month, before most competitors come to market with first-generation media tablets. Although more competing devices will be launched this year, IDC expects Apple to maintain a 70-80pc share of the market.

Samsung started shipping its 7-inch Galaxy Tab media tablet in Q4. Although its shipments into the channel were fairly aggressive, a lack of competitive pricing and ongoing competition from Apple stifled consumer demand. Samsung is expected to follow with a 10.1-inch Galaxy Tab with Android 3.0 Honeycomb later this year, but the refresh will have a tough time maintaining share as more competitors enter the market.

The recently launched Motorola Xoom is a worthy competitor in function, although the relatively high price is expected to be a barrier to gaining significant share.

Other vendors and designs are expected to hit the market in earnest in the second half of 2011. Many of these products will be more competitive in function, like the Xoom, but we expect only those from large vendors with significant marketing and channel structure in addition to a few technologically and price competitive devices to capture significant share. One differentiation path that some vendors are likely to take is to focus on specific market segments, such as commercial. While benefitting from unique product positioning, they are likely to address a smaller overall market and will need to be competitive with devices from Apple and others.

E-readers market outlook

Amazon continued to lead the e-reader market, holding more than 48pc share in Q4 and 2010 overall. Amazon’s share recovered in Q4, with shipments of the refreshed Kindle after dipping under 40pc in Q3.

Barnes and Noble began shipping the NOOKcolor colour LCD-based e-reader in Q4 to support children’s books, periodicals and other graphically rich content. The NOOKcolor is more expensive than e-paper-based e-readers and offers a lower-priced, less feature-rich alternative to a full-fledged media tablet.

Pandigital edged out Barnes and Noble for the No 2 spot in Q4, although the latter came in slightly ahead on an annual basis.

Hanvon of China came in as the No 4 e-reader vendor, with a sequential gain in volume. Half of Hanvon shipments were in China, where it leads the market, but where e-reader growth remained modest. International shipments faced greater competition, pushing share down overall.

Worldwide, Sony Reader shipments grew 80.7pc during Q4 and exceeded 800,000 units for 2010.

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years