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What iPad Share Figures Show: Tablets Are Taking Over Mobile Computing

Apple (AAPL) was at the top of the mobile PC market in the fourth quarter -- ahead of HP (HPQ), Acer, Dell, and Toshiba. What's largely escaped notice is what that says not about Apple in particular, but about iPads and tablets in general -- namely, that they're taking over the mobile market at an astonishing rate. And that has potential enormous ramifications for the entire computer industry.

For example, Apple sold 7.331 million iPads in the quarter. Add in 2.907 million Mac portables, the total is 10.238 million units. Now look at this table from DisplaySearch with its estimates of unit movements in the final calendar quarter of 2010:


Forget all mobile sales from Apple. If it had sold only iPads, it would still have been number 3 on the list. According to DisplaySearch, 10.2 million units represented a 17.2 percent market share. That means a total of 59.3 million mobile PC units shipped, so the iPad alone was 12.3 percent of all mobile PCs. Out of every eight mobile PCs sold, one was an iPad. (DisplaySearch has grouped tablets with mini-notebooks and netbooks in the past. I have an email in asking if the most recent numbers combine these other small form factors as mobile PCs.)

The iPad had a 75 percent growth between quarters and didn't exist the previous year. What is this going to do to the traditional mobile PC market? What happens when other hardware vendors release tablets running Android Honeycomb? Given how Android shot ahead of the iPhone, there's no reason to think it can't happen again.

People have long wondered if tablets would be accessories to PCs or a replacement for them. If the present trend is any indication, folks had better brace themselves for a seismic shift in how people want to use computers, what devices will have to deliver, and which companies gain control of the industry.

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Image: Apple