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Strategy Analytics vs Canalys: Q2 2013 tablet sales are off by 15 million Android devices

When looking at two distinct tablet sales reports for Q2 2012 from competing companies, we noticed a significant difference of around 15 million Android tablets. Who's right?
August 5, 2013
Nexus 7

Without actual sales data from companies, quarterly tablet sales and market share numbers offered by analysts may not always paint an actual picture of the tablet environment, and we’re going to show you today how a number like nearly 15 million Android tablets may affect the bigger picture.

After a report said a few days ago that Apple’s tablet market share has dropped to 28% for the second quarter of the year (according to analysts from a research firm), a similar study for the same period has been published by a competing firm, which says that things aren’t as great for Android tablets as previously described, as Apple still had a more than decent size of the pie, at 47%.

In other words, Android had 67% of the tablet business in the second quarter of the year according to the first study, while the other one said that while Android was the dominant tablet platform, with a 53% share.

The difference between those two studies – from companies which we’re expected to trust with such numbers, and who can influence public opinion with such detailed reports – is of around 15 million units, which is far beyond any kind of error that we’d accept from such studies.

The two reports we’re talking about come from Strategy Analytics and Canalys, respectively, and have been filed just a few days apart – links for the reports are available in the Source section below.

Strategy Analytics

We have already showed you what the company said, but let’s quickly recap. According to the company, Android dominated the market in the second quarter with a “robust” 67 percent market share, while Apple came in only at 28 percent. The remaining 5% were divided between Microsoft (4.5%) and others (0.5%).

Strategy Analytics Tablet Sales Q2 2013
Strategy Analytics tablet sales Q2 2013 | Image credit: Strategy Analytics

According to the company, Apple shipped 14.6 million units, a number the iPad maker actually shared during its Q3 FY2013 earnings report, while Android tablet sales amounted to 34.6 million units. Adding the Microsoft and others, we get to a grand total of 51.7 million units of sold tablets compared to 36.1 million for the same period last year, or a year-over-year increase in tablet sales of 43%.


A few days after Strategy Analytics came out with its report, Canalys revealed its own estimates for the same Q2 2013 period. According to them, Apple sold 14.6 million tablets – the number stays the same because it’s what Apple reported – but Android tablet sales were only at around 19.6 million, for a total of 34.2 million of tablet sales for the period.

Canalys Tablet Sales Q2 2013
Canalys tablet sales Q2 2013 | Image credit: Canalys

According to the same company, tablet sales reached almost 24 million in the second quarter of the previous year. Interestingly, the year-over-year growth is similar to what Strategy Analytics has reported, 42.9%.


Before we look at the differences between these two reports, we have a different set of numbers to check out – Google’s.

The Search giant never reveals its tablet and smartphone sales during quarterly earnings calls, but like every other successful device maker, it does brag with its accomplishments from time to time.

Before announcing the Nexus 7 (2013), Google did some bragging of its own regarding tablet sales in order to showcase the importance of the Nexus 7 in the overall tablet environment, and the increasing number of Android tablet sales available on the market.

Google Android Tablet Sales
Google Android tablet sales explained by Sundar Pichai before the Nexus 7 (2013) launch

Sundar Pichai, now Google’s Chrome and Android chief, revealed that 70 million Android device sales have been sold to date, according to combined data from IDC, Gartner and Google’s own data. As you can see in the graph above, since mid-2012 (when the first-gen Nexus 7 was launched) until mid 2013 there were around 50 million Android tablet sales (roughly from the 20 million mark to the 70 million mark in the graph).

Of all Android tablet sales, around 10 percent were Nexus 7 units, not that we’re interested in Nexus 7 sales right now.

Pichai further said that in the first half of 2013, one every two tablets sold runs Android, suggesting that Google has about 50% of the tablet market for the first two quarters of the year. According to the same graph, in the first two quarters of 2013, Google registered about 30 million tablet sales (roughly from the 40 million mark to the 70 million mark).

We have no idea whether Amazon tablets were counted for that graphic, but we’d be inclined to think so, as the graph shows the evolution of the Android tablet since 2010, and the data doesn’t only come from Google, with IDC and Gartner also being quoted for the numbers.

The differences

Who’s right, Strategy Analytics or Canalys? Have Android tablet sales really reached almost 35 million sales in the second quarter alone (Strategy Analytics) or are they around 20 million (Canalys)? Whatever the answer is, both companies can’t be right at the same time.

Considering that Strategy Analytics’ estimates for a single quarter top Google’s numbers for the first half of the year, we’d be inclined to believe that the company, for some reason, may have made a major mistake with its tablet sales estimate for Q2 2013.

But that’s not the only reason why one would suspect that Strategy Analytics is wrong – we have a second reason to question it’s numbers. When comparing the company’s reports for Q2 2013 and Q2 2012 we found some irregularities that shouldn’t be there.

It looks like, for some reason, Strategy Analytics has changed the numbers it reported last year for Q2 2012 in this year’s new report. This could explain why the overall year-over-year tablet sales growth is the same for both companies, at around 43%.

Here’s what Strategy Analytics reported for Q2 2012 last year versus what it reported for the same period a few days ago – what we did was to compare the Q2 2012 numbers in the table below (red table, third column) and above (green table, second column) and and noticed they don’t coincide:

  • iPad sales: 17 million vs 17 million; share: 68.3% vs 47.2% (this number doesn’t change as it’s taken from Apple’s Q3 FY2012 report)
  • Android tablets: 7.3 million vs 18.5 million; share 29.3% vs 51.4%
  • Microsoft tablets: 0.3 million vs 0.2 million; share 1.2% vs 4.5%
  • Others: 0.3 million vs 0.3 million; share 1.2% vs 0%.

According to this data, we find out that Android passed Apple in total tablet sales last year in Q2 2012, only we didn’t know about it at the time. In fact, at the time, Strategy Analytics proclaimed that “Apple iPad Captures 68 Percent Share of 25 Million Global Tablet Shipments in Q2 2012” in its report (that’s actually the title of a July 25, 2012 blog post from the company).

Strategy Analytics Tablet Sales Q2 2013
Strategy Analytics tablet sales Q2 2012 | Image credit: Strategy Analytics

Not to mention that 0.3 million for “others” meant a share of 1.2% of the market back then, but it has been corrected in the mean time to tell us that it actually means 0%.

Interestingly, estimates based on Microsoft recent earnings report suggest that the company may have sold just 1.7 million Surface tablets since the device was launched in fall 2012 which means that the 2.3 million of sold Windows tablets offered for Q2 2013 may be way off. This would be our third reason to question the company’s recent report on tablet sales.

For what it’s worth, Canalys doesn’t even mention Windows tablet sales, and its “others” category seems to include only Android players in the tablet market. According to its study, Apple had 47% market share, while Android tablets accounted for 53% of the market – the total is 100%, so where are the Windows tablet sales?

Canalys doesn’t have a similar report for Q2 2012 to compare to this year’s released numbers.

Wrap up

As you can see, analysts can drop the ball, and these sort of reports, while informative, may not always paint the actual big picture. How are we to trust these research firms when their reports offer such discrepancies, including contradicting Google’s own numbers and “fixing” last year’s report.

Strategy Analytics does bring into play a new tablet term, “white-box tablets,” which is a “product produced by one company (the manufacturer or ODM) that other companies (the vendors or OEMs) rebrand to make it appear as if they made it. White box tablets invariably use different components to branded tablet in order to keep cost to a minimum.”

But what are those white-box tablets, and who is so successful at selling them? According to the data offered by the company, in Q2 2013 alone, there were 15.5 million white-box tablets sold – that’s definitely a great performance (surpassing iPad sales for the period) for what aren’t necessarily great devices. Is the Nexus 7 included in that list? If it is, we’ll remind you that according to Google’s own estimates, the company sold about 7 million Nexus 7 (2012 model) since it launched the device.

both companies can’t be right at the same time

Furthermore, if they’re so successful, why isn’t Canalys reporting these numbers as well? Because they’re so many white-box tablets, you’d think they would show up in whatever research Canalys would be doing to come up with quarterly sales numbers for tablets, and would be taken into account.

Canalys does say that its report only lists “branded vendors and include Windows slates and hybrids.”

Like we said before, both reports can’t be right when there’s such a difference between them. Taking white-box tablets out of the equation, would put the total number of tablet sales for the second quarter at 36.2 million, which is very close to the 34.2 million estimate reported by Canalys. A 2 million “error” is still unacceptable. Is it possible that Canalys’ report is wrong, as the company did not count white-box shipments?

Coincidentally, if one subtracts the 2.3 million Windows tablet sales reported by Strategy Analytics, the numbers are almost perfectly aligned. We’re not saying there weren’t any Windows tablet sales last quarter, but according to recent data, Microsoft is not yet that successful at selling Windows tablets, something that both studies have observed (we mentioned numbers above).

We’ll certainly be on the lookout on future reports detailing tablets performance for the second quarter, which should help clear the waters. To paraphrase Dude, Where’s My Car?, we’re interested to see, dude, where are those 15 million Android tablets?