Kindle Fire: The Android tablet that isn't

Calling the Kindle Fire an Android is great for market share stats but misleads developers and users, to Android's peril

There are tons of market share stats flying around the blogosphere, most of them in misleading contexts to prove a dubious point. Did you know, for example, that Nokia accounts for about 75 percent of Windows Phone sales? That's meant to make Nokia look good, but of course Nokia is the only company really invested in Windows Phone (HTC and Samsung have a few models). Make of that what you will.

One set of stats you see flying about constantly involve Android and iOS market share, as the two leading mobile platforms and their devotees try to claim superiority. For example, Android smartphones began outselling iPhones a little over a year ago in the key U.S. market, but the iPhone regained its crown in fall 2012. Some stats say iPads have been outselling Android tablets by huge percentages, but one that's been shrinking in the last year. Except the truth of the Android market means that's not really true, with big implications for users and providers.

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Much of these stats are meaningless. Sales figures, for example, include units shipped to stores rather than to customers, so they are susceptible to an old trick known as channel stuffing meant to make sales look better in the short term. Other reports are based on Web visits to specific sites or ad networks, which are indicative of which platforms are used the most for the Internet (that would be iOS) but not of market share (sales of devices to people). Then there are sales estimates from a variety of research firms and consumer electronics distribution firms; they're meant to fill in the reporting gaps from manufacturers like Amazon.com and Microsoft that don't report their actual sales.

Which brings me to Android: There's no question that the Android smartphone platform has become the world's leading smartphone platform, even if in United States the race is tight. But for tablets, it's a very different story -- a story muddied by those third-party estimates and partisan reporting. Samsung has made big strides in Android tablets, accounting for the lion's share of Android sales. That is, unless you count the Amazon Kindle Fire, which is the biggest-selling Android tablet in the United States, accounting for 59 percent of all Android tablets sold.

The Kindle Fire is not sold in many countries, so its effect on Android tablet sales stats elsewhere is negligible. But as Amazon.com ramps up Kindle Fire sales -- and more important -- content distribution -- in other countries, you'll likely see Android tablet sales stats rise.

The problem is that the Kindle Fire is not really an Android tablet, so its inclusion as one gives Android partisans false comfort about the success level of their preferred tablet platform. Thus, sales of real Android tablets -- those that run a standard Android version and can run the standard Android apps in the Google Play market -- are not as strong as they appear. It's still an iPad world.

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