Apple's share of the global media tablet market slipped to 57% during the fourth quarter of 2011 - down from 64% in the third quarter.
"Shipments of the iPad line fell short of IHS estimates in the fourth quarter as many loyal Apple customers devoted their dollars to shiny new alternatives," IHS analyst Rhoda Alexander confirmed.
"However, the primary alternative wasn't the Kindle Fire, which debuted to solid sales in the fourth quarter, but Apple's own iPhone 4S smartphone. The rollout of the iPhone 4S in October generated intense competition for Apple purchasers' disposable income, doing more to limit iPad shipment growth than competition from the Kindle Fire and other media tablets."
Nevertheless, Alexander did acknowledge that the debut of Amazon's $200 Kindle Fire tablet ultimately played a "strong role" in the share shift, particularly in the US market, which accounted for more than half of global fourth-quarter media tablet sales.
Indeed, Amazon shipped 3.9 million Fire tablets in the fourth quarter, allowing the online retailer to claim an impressive double-digit share of the market (14.3%). This effectively propelled Amazon to become the world's second-largest tablet shipper in the fourth quarter - surpassing even Samsung.
"Kindle Fire shipments in the fourth quarter came right in line with the IHS early December forecast of 3.9 million units, representing a respectable start for the Fire," Alexander explained.
"However, the long-term viability of the product will hinge on the success of Amazon's business gamble, which depends on tablet sales driving substantial new online merchandise sales at Amazon in order to attain profitability."
Alexander also noted that the the fourth-quarter introduction of value-priced tablets, specifically, the Kindle Fire and Barnes & Noble's Nook, "created chaos" across the Android tablet marketplace, forcing competitors to slash pricing in order to clear inventory.
Interestingly enough, the industry seems poised to undergo another paradigm shift, as vendors look to Windows 8 tablets as a more profitable alternative. In addition, Cupertino is projected to reclaim its missing stablet market share with the next gen-iPad, which should hit Apple stores during the second quarter of this year.
The third-generation iPad will reportedly feature a QXGA retina display with a pixel format of 2,048 by 1,536, as well as SIRI, the popular voice interface of the iPhone 4S.