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Apple maintains dominance of global tablet market with 58% share in Q4 2011

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Shipments of 15.4 million iPads in the fourth quarter of calendar 2011 gave Apple a commanding 58 percent of the market, while Amazon's Kindle Fire helped heat up Android tablet shipments to a record 39 percent, according to one analysis.

Strategy Analytics released on Thursday the results of its latest research for the tablet market in the December quarter. The data showed global shipments jumped up to an all-time high of 27 million units during the period, up 150 percent from 10.7 million in the year ago quarter.

"Demand for tablets among consumer, business and education users remains strong," said Peter King, Director at the market research firm, adding that "Apple shrugged off the much-hyped threat from entry-level Android models this quarter.”

Apple stunned Wall Street on Tuesday when it announced record sales of 15.43 million iPads, a 111 percent increase year over year. The analyst consensus leading up to Apple's announcement of its quarterly results had stood at 13.5 million.

Though some industry watchers had predicted that Amazon's Kindle Fire, which came out in November, would affect sales of the iPad, Apple executives said there had been no "obvious effect" of the device on sales of its own tablet.

Shipments refer to sell-in. Numbers are rounded. The definition of tablet does not include e-book readers. | Source: Strategy Analytics

Google's Android operating system did reach a high last quarter, however, fueled largely by the Fire. The platform's 10.5 million units represented a 39 percent share of global tablet shipments during the fourth quarter. As such, the firm's findings show that Android managed to push the iPad below the 60 percent mark as had been previously projected.

"Dozens of Android models distributed across multiple countries by numerous brands such as Amazon, Samsung, Asus and others have been driving volumes," said Neil Mawston, Executive Director at Strategy Analytics. "Android is so far proving relatively popular with tablet manufacturers despite nagging concerns about fragmentation of Android’s operating system, user-interface and app store ecosystem.”

Amazon said last month that it had sold millions of Kindle Fire units, but declined to provide more specific sales figures. Even without concrete numbers to go off of, analyst believe the Fire jumped quickly into second place in the tablet market in its first quarter of availability.

In third place was Microsoft, which managed a paltry one percent share of the tablet market in the quarter.

"The upcoming release of Windows 8 this year cannot come quickly enough for Microsoft, so its hardware partners can start competing more effectively in the tablet space," the report read.

Tablet shipments for the whole year reached 66.9 million units, up 260 percent from last year's 18.6 million unit figure. The firm's research also showed that consumers are increasingly preferring tablets over netbooks and entry-level notebooks or desktops.

While non-iPad tablets are only now beginning to gain a foothold in the market after several embarrassing flops from early entrants, Apple has watched its touchscreen tablet surpass PC sales. The company sold more iPads in the fourth quarter than estimates say HP, the world's largest PC maker, sold computers.

Apple CEO Tim Cook said earlier this week that he believes the iPad is not threatened by low-end, limited-function tablets and instead poses a threat to PCs.

"There will come a day when the tablet market in units is larger than the PC market," he predicted.

That day could come sooner than later, as sales of PCs declined by nearly six percent in the fourth quarter, according to research group Gartner, though Apple's Mac lineup remained impervious and posted more than 20 percent growth.