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The new $49 Fire tablet
Amazon’s $49.99 Fire tablet

Amazon’s tablet business grew at a faster rate than any other vendor in the critical holiday quarter, shipping 5.2 million units and posting year-over-year growth of more than 175 percent, according to new numbers released this morning by the IDC research firm.

The result, driven by the $49.99 version of Amazon’s Fire tablet, vaulted the e-commerce giant into third place in global market share among tablet vendors in the fourth quarter, behind only Samsung and Apple. Amazon hadn’t even been the top 5 in the third quarter.

idc

But IDC cautions in its report this morning that Amazon isn’t likely to hold the position.

“Amazon’s success in the tablet market has thus far been purely based on price,” the research firm says in a news release about the numbers. “While this bodes well during the holiday season, it’s unlikely the Kindle’s success will continue in the remainder of the year.”

Photo via Amazon.
Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos holds earlier versions of the Fire tablets in this Amazon fie photo.

This is not a new phenomenon for Amazon’s tablet lineup, which spikes in popularity during the holidays as many people buy entry-level tablets as gifts for friends and family, while choosing higher-end devices such as the iPad and Samsung Galaxy Tab for themselves during the rest of the year. The Fire has been called the “fruitcake of tablets” for this reason.

The price for the Fire tablet was so low that Amazon sold a six-pack for $250, which is less than the price of the cheapest iPad.

Amazon doesn’t disclose unit sales of its electronics devices but said during last week’s earnings report that the $50 tablet “has been the #1 best-selling, most gifted, and most wished-for product across all items available on Amazon.com since its introduction 19 weeks ago.”

The low price is part of a strategy that Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos has called “the Amazon Doctrine.” The company views tablets and other devices less as end products and more as channels for users to access and buy content and products from Amazon. “We want to make money when people use our devices, not when they buy our devices,” Bezos explained at a 2012 news conference.

But is the $50 Fire tablet really worth buying? Here is GeekWire’s hands-on review.

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