By Ingrid Lunden
Android tablets have nearly caught up to iPad devices as the world's most popular tablet platform, and some project that they may even overtake iPads later this year. According to new research from app analytics company Localytics, the U.S., and specifically Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN), should take the most credit for that trend: some 59% of all Android tablet usage came from the U.S., with over half of that attributed to Kindle Fire and Fire HD tablets, working out to a 33% share.
The numbers are based on usage of apps with Localytics analysis and marketing data installed on them. Localytics says that in total there are 500 million+ unique devices running that software.
That is enough of a lead, in the leading Android tablet market, to make Amazon's Kindle Fire the world's most popular Android tablet. But it's a very regional victory for now, and would likely come as a surprise to Android users outside of the U.S.
The U.S. is Amazon's first and main market for the Kindle Fire, with Amazon only starting to roll out the tablets to other markets towards the end of 2012 (first in the UK market), around a year after launching in the U.S.
That means that some 89% of Amazon's tablets "live in America, with most of the rest in Great Britain," writes Localytics' Daniel Ruby. "After those two, no other country has even one percent of worldwide Kindle Fires."
In the rest of the world, however, the Android tablet game is Samsung's to lose. Ruby tells me that the Korean device maker's Galaxy line accounts for 76% of all Android tablet usage across non-U.S. markets. Nexus 7 came in second at 15%, and Kindle Fire's global share is just 9%.
Localytics notes that if Amazon manages to work out its international distribution, then "their U.S. success suggests they could quickly dominate the Android tablet market worldwide."
Indeed, in the market where Amazon has been the longest, it has stolen a march on traditional competitors like Barnes & Noble, whose Android-based Nook has only 10% of the market in the U.S., and even less than Amazon outside of there.
The rise of the Kindle Fire speaks to another, persistent trend in the Android world: the presence and success of "official" Google versions of the platform and those that are not.
Because Fire is built on a "forked" version of Android, the Google Play app storefront doesn't appear on it.
That means two things: first, Amazon gets more control to push its own advertising, and its own services on the devices over those of Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) and others - something it is doing more by extending payment services and possibly adding in the ability to incorporate a voice API for voice recognition services.
Second, it means more legwork for developers and an imperative to create apps specifically for the Kindle Fire, if not with a view for global distribution today, then for the promise of it in the future.
"Any Android developer with a focus on tablets should be distributing their apps in the Amazon App Store," writes Ruby. "The degree to which Amazon has dominated their most serious geographical market should speak to the future potential, and since Google Play is unavailable on the Kindle Fire family, adding Amazon's App Store as a distribution channel is important."
Figures from ABI Research in November 2012 noted that in the last quarter, iPad devices accounted for 55% of sales, while Android tablets accounted for 44%.