March 4, 2014 Last Updated 9:04 am

Gartner report claims Android tablet sales have blown past Apple’s iPad, but publisher and marketers still not seeing shift

The latest report on tablets from the research firm Gartner has raised some eyebrows for its claim that 2013 saw a dramatic shift in the tablet market as Android tablet sales blew past Apple. According to Gartner, Android tablets now enjoy an almost 62 percent share of the market, while Apple has fallen from over 50 percent to less than 40.

The report has caused a bit of consternation in the Apple tech site community, as editors and readers try to grapple with new data that not only appears a bit inconsistent, but contrary to their own biases. But before addressing the merits of Gartner’s report, here is what it says.

Gartner-tabMS“In 2013, tablets became a mainstream phenomenon, with a vast choice of Android-based tablets being within the budget of mainstream consumers while still offering adequate specifications,” said Roberta Cozza, research director at Gartner. “Apple’s tablets remain strong in the higher end of the market and, Apple’s approach will continue to force vendors to compete with full ecosystem offerings, even in the smaller-screen market as the iPad mini sees a greater share.”

Critics of the report have said that Gartner’s number don’t seem to jive with what Apple reported, with around 4 million tablet sales missing from the report. Gartner reports that Apple sold just over 70 million, while Apple reported 74 million sold. But even using Apple’s numbers, Gartner says that Android tablets accounted for over 120 million units sold.

But Gartner’s report is looking at worldwide sales at a time when Asian sales of Android tablets built by Samsung are growing at a brisk pace. Previously reports showed a rise in Android tablets thanks mostly to Amazon’s Kindle Fire tablets entering the market. In 2012, for instance, Amazon’s market share of tablet sales, according to Gartner, was 6.6 percent, just a little below Samsung, and in third place. But in 2013, thanks to the explosive growth in Samsung sales, plus the growth by cheap tablets from such manufacturers as ASUS, Amazon’s market share fell to 4.8 percent, in fourth place.

As for Microsoft, Gartner fails to see much penetration for the Surface, even though sales did reach 4 million units in 2013, its share remains at irrelevant levels.

large_note_10-featureAt the end of October TNM ran a post that talked about whether the growth in Android tablets was starting to translate into a shift in digital publication sales. Were vendors and publishers seeing growth in Android, or was iOS devices still accounting for the vast majority of subscription sales? The answer was universally that Android still lagged far behind iOS. But most thought that eventually they would start to see a shift.

“I don’t know how soon, but the trend seems to be that like app spending everywhere, spending on Android is picking up, not slowing down,” Mike Haney of Mag+ said. “Google has done some nice work in improving the layout and features of its app store, and as more of those Android users—who may not have consciously purchased an Android phone, but rather took the least expensive smartphone their carrier offered—”discover” apps on their device, I think we’ll see spending steadily increasing, even if the price per app or per in-app purchase is driven down.”

“When the Kindle Fire was released about 18 months ago I think that spurred additional uses of devices,” said Lynly Schambers, Group Product Marketing Manager, Digital Publishing Suite, Adobe, “because they were that much more affordable and accessible to people.”

GooglePlay-NewsstandBut both subscription sales and web traffic coming from tablets still seems to show that iPad owners are still the market to reach – despite the growth in Android tablet sales.

In publishing, the reasons behind the sales discrepancy between iOS and Android is complicated by the fact that the app stores are all different in design and that digital publications may be different from one app store to the next, with native apps more common in the Apple App Store, and replicas the norm in Google Play.

But one marketing firm that sells CPGs advertising and Internet marketing solutions, and has created apps for both iOS and Android that are identical, said they also see that owners of iPads tend to be buyers, while Android owners lagged behind. They speculate that demographics are playing a role, with Apple products being seen as appealing to higher income earners, ones that are typically more tech savvy and willing to make online purchases.

The next big challenge for digital publishers may be trying to tap this new market of tablet owners. Standing in their way is Google Play, which most publishes have seen as not as friendly an environment for their native tablet editions. Also complicating their task is the fragmented nature of the Android side of digital publishing, with Amazon’s ecosystem seen more as outside Android than firmly inside the platform.

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