Will Android Tablets Pass iPad in 2013?

on March 13, 2013

The technical answer is yes. Android AOSP (Android open source project) meaning Android code that can be freely taken and used will be installed on more tablets than iPads in 2013. But the story isn’t that simple or clean cut. Data requires perspective and that is what I hope to provide around IDC’s latest press release and chart predicting that Android will be on more tablets than iOS in 2013 and beyond.

Here is the original IDC chart.

Screen Shot 2013-03-12 at 2.20.17 PM

Now at first glance we look at that chart and mistakingly assume that the red part, which signifies Android, means a flavor of Android with universal value to both Google and developers. If I was a developer, I would look at that chart and think that Android tablets must be where I should focus my resources because it is clearly the OS market share leader starting in 2013 and beyond. However, if I thought that I would be wrong.

To clearly understand the Android picture we need to better understand the flavors of the OS and in particular which ones have the Google Play store and which ones do not. Because what really matters if we are interested in a clear industry picture of OS platform share is the distribution mechanisms for applications on each platform. If iOS represents a certain amount of market share then I can be confident that Apple’s app store is on that percentage of devices and install base.

The problem when we talk about Android market share in both smartphones and tablets, is that we are not talking about market share in which a universal app store medium exists. This is because Android can be taken and forked, to the chagrin of Google, and used for the sole agenda of others thus not benefiting Google or the Play Store developers. This is the problem we have when we look at the Android growth in tablets. The greatest percentage of it is coming from Amazon with their Kindle fire, and the Chinese market. The Kindle Fire runs a forked version of Android and developers must use Amazon’s SDK and proprietary app store. 90% of Chinese Android devices sold do not come with the Goolge Play store installed but rather have ties to dozens of local app store from local service providers. Therefore to get an accurate picture of the Android market, it is more helpful to break out market share by devices which have the Play store and the ones that do not. If we did, then IDC’s, chart would look more like this.


Chart Caveat: Two things about this chart. First I’m making a point not a series of forecasts. I will let my friends at IDC and other firms do the forecasting. Second, the size of the tablet market in 2017 could likely be over 600 million.

This is a more helpful way to look at the data and understand the market share. If I am a developer and I look at this data, then I may be more inclined to say that I should focus on Amazon’s platform vs. Google’s version of Android when it comes to tablets. More importantly I would understand that iOS and Apple’s App store still offers me the greatest total addressable market. China is the wild wild west as I point out and only local devs have a shot there at figuring out their app store mess.

Since Android is not actually a platform, but an enabling technology that allows companies to create platforms, it’s helpful to look at the data in a way that shows the picture as it is. Stating generically “Android market share” does not give an accurate picture to the market which needs the data to make educated decisions.

My goal here is not to be overly negative on Android, but simply to paint a more accurate industry picture.