Who is Apple's biggest competitor? According to research released today from IHS iSuppli, it's none other than Apple. The research firm contends that it was Apple's own newly introduced iPhone 4S that proved to be the strongest competitor for the iPad during the final three months of 2011.
Apple shipped 15.4 million iPads during the fourth quarter of 2011, according to iSuppli. But while shipments were up 39 percent from 11.1 million in the third quarter, Apple's share of the global media tablet market slipped to 57 percent in the fourth quarter, down from 64 percent in the third quarter.
"Shipments of the iPad line fell short of IHS estimates in the fourth quarter as many loyal Apple customers devoted their dollars to shiny new alternatives," said Rhoda Alexander, senior manager, tablet and monitor research for IHS, in a statement. "However, the primary alternative wasn't the Kindle Fire — which debuted to solid sales in the fourth quarter — but Apple's own iPhone 4S smartphone."
IHS reports that the rollout of the iPhone 4S in October generated intense competition for Apple purchasers' disposable income, doing more to limit iPad shipment growth than competition from the Kindle Fire and other media tablets.
So how did the Kindle Fire fare against the iPad? IHS said Amazon's slate played a strong role in share shift as well, particularly in the U.S. market, which accounted for more than half of global fourth-quarter media tablet sales. Amazon shipped 3.9 million Fire tablets in the fourth quarter, allowing the company to garner a double-digit share of the market, at 14.3 percent.
This drove Amazon to become the world's second-largest tablet shipper in the fourth quarter, surpassing even Samsung Electronics.
"Kindle Fire shipments in the fourth quarter came right in line with the IHS early December forecast of 3.9 million units, representing a respectable start for the Fire," Alexander noted. "However, the long-term viability of the product will hinge on the success of Amazon's business gamble, which depends on tablet sales driving substantial new online merchandise sales at Amazon.com in order to attain profitability."
For the entire year of 2011, Apple shipped 40.5 million iPads, up 168 percent from 15.1 million in 2010. This gave the company a 62 percent share for the year, down from the dominant 87 percent in 2010, when Apple had the media tablet market all to itself for most of the year.
Despite Amazon's strong showing at the end of the year, Samsung held on to second place, with shipments of its Galaxy Tab line amounting to 6.1 million units, or 9.4 percent of the 2011 market. Amazon's share for the year amounted to 6 percent.