By Poornima Gupta
SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Amazon.com Inc's <AMZN.O> Kindle Fire was a popular gift item during the holiday season but shipments of the $199 tablet computer dropped sharply in the following months.
Market share of Kindle Fire, which was launched with much fanfare by Amazon in November, fell to about 4 percent in January-March period from 16.8 percent in the fourth quarter, according to research firm IDC.
"The tablet market in general has been very seasonal," Bob O'Donnell, IDC's program vice president, said. "At $199 it (Kindle) was much more of an impulse buy during the holidays. You don't get much of an impulse buy during Q1."
Consumer device giant Apple Inc <AAPL.O> remained in the No.1 spot, shipping 11.8 million tablets and increasing its global tablet market share to 68 percent last quarter from 54.7 percent in the December quarter.
Rival Samsung Electronics <005939.KS> moved back into the No.2 spot, owing to weakness in Kindle Fire sales, followed by Lenovo in the fourth spot and Barnes & Noble <BKS.N> at No.5, the IDC said.
But overall, tablet shipments worldwide were a lower-than-expected 17.4 million units, representing a 1.2 million unit shortfall from IDC's projections as a steep drop in shipments of Android-based tablets offset Apple's strong sales in the quarter.
The total still represents a year-over-year growth rate of 120 percent, the IDC said.
The hotly contested and increasingly crowded tablet arena is expected to get more players in the coming months and years. Some industry executives say that sales of the mobile device will eat into personal computer sales and could even outsell them.
(Reporting By Poornima Gupta; Editing by Tim Dobbyn)