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Amazon Kindle Fire: iPad Threat or Also-Ran?

Turkey wasn’t the only thing being consumed in massive quantities over the Thanksgiving holiday. So were the bargains across the U.S. retail sector.

Combine the reports from The National Retail Federation, BIGresearch and comScore (Nasdaq: SCOR) and U.S. consumers gobbled up a record $52.4 billion worth of goods. That’s a 16% increase year-over-year.

One of the top-selling items? None other than Amazon.com’s (Nasdaq: AMZN) tablet computer – the Kindle Fire.

Although the company didn’t release official sales figures, it did say it sold four times as many Kindle devices this year compared to last. And that the Kindle Fire was its bestselling product not only on Black Friday, but also for the last eight weeks.

Impressive!

So should Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL) – the world’s leading tablet computer maker – be scared? Not hardly. Or at least, not by the numbers…

Sure, 2011 sales estimates for Amazon’s Kindle Fire have been exploding higher… from four million devices pre-launch on September 28… to five million devices at-launch on November 15… to six million devices right before Black Friday.

And the lower starting price – $199 for a Kindle Fire vs. $499 for an iPad 2 – certainly contributes to the quick uptake, as consumers remain extremely cost-conscious after the Great Recession. But Amazon’s still light years away from truly threatening Apple.

Consider:

  • In the last quarter, Apple sold a record 9.3 million iPads.
  • This quarter, Forrester expects Apple to sell a record 20 million iPads. (That’s a 115.1% increase quarter-over-quarter and almost four times as many sales predicted for Amazon.)
  • For the whole year, Gartner predicts Apple will sell 47 million iPads, up 219.7% from the 14.7 million it sold in 2010.

As Gartner’s research vice president, Carolina Milanesi, said:

“…Apple delivers a superior and unified user experience across its hardware, software and services… Unless competitors can respond with a similar approach, challenges to Apple’s position will be minimal. Apple had the foresight to create this market and in doing that planned for it as far as component supplies such as memory and screen. This allowed Apple to bring the iPad out at a very competitive price and no compromise in experience among the different models that offer storage and connectivity options.”

Bottom line:  Impressive holiday sales or not, the Kindle Fire is still just an also-ran. Apple’s iPad still has no serious competition. It controls about 75% of the tablet market today. And the latest research out of Gartner predicts that it will control at least 50% market share until 2014.

Ahead of the tape,

Louis Basenese