Strategy Analytics announced today: “Android Captures Record 39 Percent Share of Global Tablet Shipments in Q4 2011″. Bloggers go nuts with it, headlines such as “Android Grabs 10% Tablet Market Share from Apple in Q4 2011” and “Android tablets gain ground with 10.5 million sales in Q4 2011“. Here’s a quick fact check: the report was about tablets shipped, not sold. Sounds like a minor little nit, but it isn’t, and if you’ve never been inside the actual business of hardware before, it’s a fairly common mistake.
Shipping a product implies it’s been manufactured, packaged, and transported into a distribution facility, and in some way allocated by a retailer. It hasn’t necessarily been purchased by the retailer yet, nor has it been sold to a consumer. Which means a massive cost was incurred by the manufacturer, with no revenue so far. Further, even if the retailer has made some form of purchasing agreement/commitment, they typically have many many ways to back out if units aren’t moving. All, of course, at the expense of the manufacturer. This is how Logitech lost $100 million on the Revues, as they made a bunch, but couldn’t sell them. As Seinfeld might’ve put it: “See, you know how to ship the product, you just don’t know how to sell the product and that’s really the most important part of the product, the selling. Anybody can just ship them.”
So let’s go back to that report. 10.5 million Android tablets shipped in Q4. Not too shabby. Now Apple did just announce they sold 15.4 million iPads in the same quarter. So we know we aren’t talking oranges-to-oranges comparisons already.
I’m going to add in a personal observation/anecdote here, take it with a grain of salt. In the past year, at over 20 conferences, 30 flights, and possibly hundreds of meetings, I’ve seen about 15 android tablets in use “in the wild”. I’ll go as high as 20. That’s it. Not only isn’t it close to 40%, it’s not even close to 1% of the tablets I’ve seen in use, in every major metropolitan area in North America. But that’s not a fair way to look at it, so I’ll assume I’m off by a few percent, especially including the international market plus the recent hotness of the Kindle Fire.
But let’s pretend they somehow sell-through 5% of the total tablet market, as defined by iPad sales. That’s 750,000 units sold. Maybe a little low, but as I scan the numbers from a bunch of different reports, doesn’t seem too far off the mark (NPD reported a grand total of 1.2 million non-Apple tablets sold between Jan-Oct last year). Let’s bump it to a cool million, just to seem “fair”. That leaves manufacturers with 9 million unsold tablets.
According to a variety of reports (best from iSuppli), tablets cost manufacturers between $200-$300 to manufacture, on average. So again, averaging it all out (which isn’t exactly right, but that’s kind of the theme of my blog anyway, right?) at $250 times 9 million units equals holy crap.
Oh, and this doesn’t include marketing, packaging, shipping, warehousing, taxes, and all the other costs involved. Please, somebody, show me how I’m wrong! No, seriously, I don’t actually want to be right here!