Are Android 'TV sticks' eating into Apple's tablet market share?

November 18, 2013: 8:33 AM ET

The trade in bootleg USB videos and Android-based media players is booming in Asia.

Android TV boxes

Click to enlarge.

FORTUNE -- One of the mysteries of the tablet wars -- where Android tablet shipments have been advancing rapidly on Apple's (AAPL) iPad -- is what exactly all those Android tablets are doing.

The answer may be that a lot of them aren't tablets at all. They may instead be so-called Android TV sticks and boxes -- typically dongle-like devices that plug into a TV and are used primarily, according to a report out of Singapore, as vehicles for bootleg videos.

"Pirated bootleg movie DVDs used to be quite easy to buy here in Asia," writes jnaina, a long-time contributor to Investor Village's Apple Sanity board. When pressure from Hollywood led to government crackdowns on bootleg DVDs, the pirates moved to USB drives and Android TV sticks.

"In Singapore," jnaina writes, "you can go to the (in)famous Sim Lim tower and buy these Android based media players. The vendors will throw in about 20+ movies high-quality movies on a USB drive as part of the deal. Most of these Android TV sticks cost around US$100. Once the buyer has finished watching the initial freebie movies that were given as part of the purchase, they can go back to the vendor and buy additional movies that are downloaded to an USB stick for about USD$2 per movie.

"These Android TV boxes typically run Android 4.2 and have Google Play installed. The Android TV Boxes even register as an Android Tablet during the activation process, but these devices are not used for web surfing, emails or any sort of productivity applications. They are strictly used as media players, and for some free Android games."

That would explain a lot.

For an Apple-centric take on how these devices might be distorting market share measurements, see Daniel Eran Dilger's The curious case of IDC, Gartner & Strategy Analytics' PC, phone & tablet data on Apple posted Saturday on

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