Can the iPad mini save Apple’s slipping lead in tablet sales? The could be the question of the day as researchers announce Apple’s share of the tablet market dropped to 56.7 percent while Android tablets now account for 41 percent of the worldwide market.

According to Strategy Analytics, the iPad’s lead eroded from the 64.5 percent it held during the third quarter of 2011. Meanwhile, an army of Android tablets, helped by Apple losses, rose to 41.3 percent of the market, up from 29.2 percent during the same period last year…

Strategy Analytics Executive Director Neil Mawston said:

No single Android vendor comes close to Apple in volume terms at the moment, but the collective weight of dozens of hardware partners, such as Asus, Samsung and Nook, is helping Google’s Android platform to register a growing presence in tablets.

Thursday, Apple announced it sold 14 million iPads during the fiscal fourth quarter of 2012.

Although the company said iPad sales were up 26 percent compared to a year ago, observers felt sales were softened by a number of factors, including consumers delaying purchases until Apple’s announcement this week.

Analysts revised their earnings estimates downward after Apple’s chief executive Tim Cook Monday announced 100 million iPads were sold as of two weeks ago. But some sleuthing revealed a slowdown compared to previous periods.

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However, it appears there is a global slowdown in tablet demand. Worldwide tablet shipments rose by just 43 percent in the fiscal third quarter, down dramatically from the nitro-fueled 289 percent growth reported in the second quarter of 2011.

“This was the weakest growth rate since the modern tablet industry began in the second quarter of 2010”, writes Strategy Analytics.

So, can the less-expensive iPad mini reignite the demand for tablets – especially those made by Apple?

The new tablet is expected to begin shipping November 2. Apple began taking pre-orders today and two hours later sold out of white iPad mini stock.

Will this be enough time to boost Apple’s flagging market lead?

Sterne Agee analyst Shaw Wu has described the iPad mini as a potential nightmare for Apple’s rivals, but can it counter Android’s momentum? The answer’s will likely have to wait until holiday shoppers vote with their wallets.

What do you think?

Is the iPad nearing a new day with the mini or is the sun setting on Apple’s dominance of the tablet?