market research on tabletsMedia tablet shipments grew explosively between first quarter 2011 and the same period this year, according to ABI Research. Total 1Q tablet sales were 18.2 million, representing a 185% gain over the same period a year earlier — but a decline of 33% from the fourth quarter of 2011.

Apple and Samsung were the clear market leaders, according to the latest report from ABI Research’s “Media Tablet Market Share Tracker.” The launch of a third-generation iPad and reductions in the cost of iPad 2 models drove Apple’s 11.8 million iPad shipments, researchers said. Meanwhile, Kindle Fire shipments fizzled, enabling Samsung to regain the #2 market position, ABI said.

“A pattern similar to smartphones is also occurring in tablets,” says Jeff Orr, group director of consumer research for ABI. “Apple and Samsung have demonstrated staying power while other tablet vendors ebb and flow like the tide.” Only two leading branded tablet OEMs – RIM and Lenovo – bucked the downward first quarter shipment trends, while Taiwan’s ASUS remained flat sequentially from 4Q’2011.

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Orr added that “several vendors, including Dell, HP, and LG are currently retooling tablet portfolios for mid-year launches of Android 4.0 along with the much anticipated Windows 8 slates debuting later in 2012.”

Apple accounted for nearly 65% of worldwide tablet unit shipments in Q1, with cumulative shipments surpassing 67 million since the product was introduced eight quarters ago. When it comes to 3G-enabled tablets, Apple has been out-shipping its nearest competitor by eight times. Yet ironically, Apple can’t claim the highest mobile broadband (3G/4G) attach rate because iPad users continue to favor Wi-Fi over cellular connectivity, ABI said.

“The majority of iPad buyers continue to be satisfied with Wi-Fi wireless coverage,” Orr commented. “The leading model shipments and the ongoing challenges mobile operators face in convincing iPad owners to even try the mobile broadband connectivity once are expected to continue for the foreseeable future.”

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