On the back of Samsung Galaxy Tab sales, Android tablets grabbed a 22% share of the world's tablet market last quarter, denting for the first time the iPad's dominance, a research firm said today.
Approximately 9.7 million tablets shipped in the fourth quarter of 2010, up 120% over the previous quarter, said U.K.-based Strategy Analytics.
Apple accounted for 75% of all fourth quarter sales -- impressive, but down from an estimated 95% share in the third quarter, when its iPad accounted for 4.2 million of the 4.4 million tablets sold.
Two weeks ago, Apple said it sold a record 7.3 million iPads in the quarter that ended Dec. 3, 2010.
But the quick climb in Android tablet sales is what caught the eyes of analysts.
"Android tablet volumes experienced 2000% sequential growth and its global market share soared to a record 22% percent in Q4 2010," said Neil Mawson, director at Strategy Analytics, in a statement.
If accurate, the company's estimate means that some 2.2 million Android-based tablets were sold last quarter, a dramatic increase from the 100,000 sold in the previous three months.
Mawson credited Samsung's Galaxy Tab for the booming sales of Android tablets. "The Samsung Galaxy Tab was the main driver of Android's success, as the model was launched in dozens of countries and promoted heavily by Samsung," Mawson said.
Last week, Samsung announced it had sold 2 million Galaxy Tabs in the fourth quarter.
The Galaxy Tab offers a smaller 7-in. screen than the 9.7-in. display of the iPad. In the U.S., Verizon sells the Tab for $500 with a month-to-month data plan, while Sprint prices the tablet at $300 when customers sign up for a two-year data contract.
Apple's Wi-Fi only iPad starts at $499, and its WI-Fi/3G model begins at $629.
Although Android made gains in the fourth quarter, during 2010 the operating system accounted for just 13% of all tablets sold. Apple's share for the year was 84%.
Mawson did not put a number on Android or iOS shares for 2011, saying only that, "We expect Android to increase share of the global tablet market during the first half of 2011."
Susan Kevorkian, a research director at U.S. firm IDC, declined to disclose her company's estimates for fourth quarter tablet sales, saying that it would release its numbers in March.
"But we estimate that Apple will have a 60% market share during 2011, and Android nearly 30%," Kevorkian said. IDC has forecast that 44.6 million tablets will ship this year -- more than two-and-a-half times the number in 2010 -- and said sales would climb to 70.8 million units in 2012.
Android tablets will get a bump later this year when Google releases Android 3.0, aka Honeycomb, a version of the smartphone operating system designed for tablets. Earlier this month at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES), Motorola Mobility said it would launch its Android 3.0-powered Xoom tablet in the first quarter of this year.
Developers are also anticipating a flood of Android tablets during 2011.
According to a survey conducted in mid-January, 74% of the mobile application developers polled said they were "very interested" in creating software for Android tablets, up 12 points in three months and closing in on the 87% who answered the same way when asked about building apps for the iPad.
Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at @gkeizer or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed . His e-mail address is email@example.com.