September 4, 2013 Last Updated 1:12 pm

Tracking Android tablet sales proves a fool’s errand

I wasted several hours this morning trying to do the impossible: figure out exactly how many Android tablets have been sold, by quarter. The problem is that that even those research firms that claim to be providing analytics don’t seem to agree with their own reports, let alone others.

I started to compile reports from one firm who fairly regularly release press releases. Information from mid-2011 until the present, their own reports show Android sales jumping around like a heartbeat. From 5 million units to over 10 in the next quarter, back down to 6 million, then up to 18 million. In the last quarter this same company suddenly claimed Android tablet sales were above 34 million, more than double the number of iPads Apple was able to sell. Something was amiss, as AppleInsider pointed out in July.

iPadSales-chart-lgApple, of course, discloses its tablet sales every time it releases an earnings report. When I compile my charts to track sales I don’t even source it – everyone knows where the numbers are coming from.

It’s not just a problem created by Amazon, either. The online retailer is notorious for keeping their Kindle sales numbers to themselves. But other manufacturers are not much better.

Why is this important? Well, ask any publisher trying to make a decision about when or whether to launch an Android tablet edition, and what kind.

Because of this we are ending up in a situation where anecdotal information is becoming more valuable, and more reliable than that coming from some of the analytics firms. How does one square, for instance, in information from Chitika, which said that in June of this year 84.3 percent of all web traffic coming from tablets came from iPads. The number was jam dropping, and to be honest, seemed bizarre.

One could imagine that some owners of tablets that are basically eReaders with apps and browsers might not use their tablets for web browsing, but what about Google Nexus owners, or Samsung Galaxy owners?

But at least that information seemed to jive with what some publishers and publishing platform owners have reported to me: that sales and downloads on Android tablets remain far behind that of iOS. But, again, how does this compare with the supposed rise in Android sales?

The only thing that solve this problem is good research. Research that comes from companies not desperate for an attention grabbing headline.

In my newspaper days the two reports we used most were the ABC audit and the Scarborough reader studies. One was gospel, the other could be argued with (we were always amazed at how a newspaper’s audience share would decrease once that paper stopped paying the company to be included in the research).

Like it or not, publishers who want to compete in the smartphone and tablet publishing platforms are dependent on reaching the owners of those devices – it would be nice to know exactly what the market looks like, with some level of confidence.

Comments are closed.