Tablet outlook: Apple iPad will dominate...or plummet

The future of the tablet market may be rosy or gloomy for the iPad depending on how you interpret the Gartner predictions.

Gartner released a report predicting the state of the tablet market for the next few years. Depending on your perspective, and whether you choose to be a "glass half full" or "glass half empty" type of person, the Apple iPad will either dominate the tablet industry in 2015, or it will have plummeted in market share. Maybe the right answer is both.

First, let's just look at what the Gartner report actually says. Apparently, the analysts at Gartner are from the "glass half full" camp, because the title of the press release announcing the report starts with: "Gartner Says Apple iOS to Dominate the Media Tablet Market Through 2015".

Basically, Gartner predicts that Apple will maintain a virtual stranglehold on the tablet market through 2011 and 2012, and remain as the top tablet platform through at least 2015. Carolina Milanesi, research vice president at Gartner is quoted in the press release explaining that iPad rivals are making the same mistakes as iPhone competitors did -- focusing too much on matching Apple's hardware, and not enough on delivering the user experience. "Tablets will be much more dependent on the latter than smartphones have been, and the sooner vendors realize that the better chance they have to compete head-to-head with Apple."

I have seen some "glass half empty" analysis of the numbers as well, though, which focuses on the dramatic drop in market share for the Apple tablet. In 2010, the iPad was pretty much the only tablet game in town and enjoyed a virtual monopoly. With the wave of tablets hitting the market this year, Apple has to share the pie and its share is predicted to fall to the upper 60 per cent.

By 2015, Gartner predicts that Apple will own less than half the market with only 47.1 per cent. There are two flaws in the "glass half empty" analysis, though. Apple's unit sales are not predicted to drop. In fact, Gartner predicts that Apple unit sales will grow about 10 times from less than 15,000 in 2010 to almost 150,000 in 2015.

But, the Gartner percentages are based on single year sales, and Android is predicted to sell more than 110,000 units in 2015, combined with growing shares for tablets like the BlackBerry PlayBook and HP TouchPad -- leaving Apple with only 47.1 of the predicted unit sales for 2015.

If you break the numbers down, you discover two things. First, that Apple's predicted share of unit sales may drop to 47.1 per cent of the total for 2015, but Apple's overall sales don't go down. Apple just has a smaller percentage of a much bigger pie as the tablet market as a whole grows exponentially.

Second, if you actually add up the year by year numbers (at least the ones available -- the Gartner release skips 2013 and 2014 for some reason), and paint a bigger picture of the tablet market than just the year by year sales comparisons, Apple's cumulative total will be greater than all competitors combined and leave it with nearly 60 per cent of the total tablets out there.

Granted, it is virtually inevitable that the iPad will eventually get knocked off the top of the tablet hill. The lone Apple tablet can only stave off the Android army invasion for so long. Using recent events as an example -- the iPad 2 sold 2.6 million units its first month, compared with only about 100,000 units for the Motorola Xoom. Head to head, the Xoom is simply no match for the iPad 2. However, if you get 25 or 30 Android tablets similar to the Xoom, and they each sell 100,000, Android as a platform will still pass the iPad.

So, yes -- the iPad will continue to be the dominant tablet for the foreseeable future. And, yes -- the iPad's share of the tablet pie will drop considerably during that same foreseeable future. Both are true, yet neither change the fact that the Apple tablet has no real rival capable of competing with it one on one.

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Tony Bradley

PC World (US online)
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