Guess what? Analysts say iPad will continue to dominate

Feb 8, 2011
Tech

And now for a potentially self-obvious news update: analysts with at least one firm are pegging the iPad as continuing to dominate the tablet market, at least for the foreseeable future. According to PC World, analyst firm iSuppli pegs the iPad’s head start on the market as being enough to keep it in front for […]

And now for a potentially self-obvious news update: analysts with at least one firm are pegging the iPad as continuing to dominate the tablet market, at least for the foreseeable future.

According to PC World, analyst firm iSuppli pegs the iPad’s head start on the market as being enough to keep it in front for the market through 2011 and probably 2012, despite the fact that every tech company on the planet is trying to cut into Apple’s (AAPL) market share.

That might be the safe bet, considering the iPad currently makes up 90 percent or better of tablet sales. Apple seems to be preparing to start letting us in on the next iteration of its mega-popular tab more or less any day now, and certainly that iPad will sell exceptionally well, too, if the recent history of the iPhone and its new models is any indication.

But iSuppli’s prediction also adds in a whole lot more tablets sales in general, so while they’ve picked the iPad to remain the heavyweight champ, one wonders what the margin will be. To quote PC World:

“Tablet shipments will increase by a factor of 12 by 2015, iSuppli said, and total shipments of tablets will amount to 242.3 million units in 2015. In 2010, a total of 19.7 million tablet devices shipped, the vast majority of them – 17.4 million – ‘media tablets’, running lite operating systems such as iOS and Android.”

Read that number again: iSuppli thinks the tablet market is going to ship 242.3 million devices in just five years. That’s insane, and makes the record-breaking iPad sales from Q1 2011 — which was 7 million for a single quarter — sound pretty unremarkable.

A change in the game

Right now, because the iPad showed that it was viable and found success where no other device has, the tablet market is exploding. It seems like there’s a new Android tablet coming out every day, and while Samsung’s (005930.KS) Galaxy Tab was supposed to have sold well and helped bring the company some record profits last year, it’s unclear whether Samsung’s reported two million Galaxy Tab sales in Q4 2010 is actually accurate. There are lots of new tablets on the market, but none is doing nearly so well as the iPad — they’re not doing all that well even if you add them all up, compared to the iPad.

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Yet iSuppli is estimating that iPad will remain the big player through 2012, and that two to three years later, 242.3 million tablets will be sold. Another firm, Ovum, pegs sales of Apple’s iPad iterations in 2015 to hit 150 million. To hear iSuppli tell it, the next two years are going to transform computing, it sounds like: by 2015, tablets are going to be much more mainstream, and possibly approaching the norm for computing.

And the firm suggests we’ll be seeing that development starting this year and stretching into 2013. It says we’re in the first wave of tablet sales, sparked by the iPad, which will continue through 2011. In 2012, viable iPad competitors (read: Android (GOOG) devices) will hit the market with some force and level the playing field some. Then, 2013 will see the release of more powerful Windows-based (MSFT) tablets like the ones we saw at CES 2011 this year.

Obviously, the tablet market is on the extreme uphill trend of the bubble — but to ship just 60 million units short of the entire current population of the U.S. in five years? That suggests iSuppli is seeing something in tabs that isn’t there yet: the ability to comfortably replace every day computing needs. The iPad is definitely not there yet, and neither is most of the rest of the market, which iSuppli designates as “media tablets.” Those accounted for 17.4 million of the 19.7 million tabs sold in 2010, the company said.

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It’s trendy right now to talk about how big of a deal the tablet market is and will be, and to speculate how it will continue to explode — maybe because nobody saw this explosion coming, and the market was in pretty bad shape before the iPad revitalized it. But one big year doesn’t necessarily signal what seems to be a suggested paradigm shift in the world of computers. Sure, it’s hard to look ahead when the most viable tablets are the iPad and a range of Android tabs that go from the cheap and underpowered to the expensive and super-charged. Whatever iSuppli is seeing coming down the pipe to make tablets such a powerhouse force in 2015, it certainly isn’t here yet.

Not that tablets won’t eventually become as huge as the analysts think — it’s just an assumption banking on something we haven’t seen yet. Tablets are getting powerful, but like all technology, it’s going to take time for them to hit a balance between power and cost, as well as other factors like portability. Looking at today’s tablets, I’m not willing to buy that 250 million people will want to buy tabs in 2015; but we’ll just have to wait and see.

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Phil Hornshaw

Phil Hornshaw is a freelance writer, editor and author living in Los Angeles, dividing his time between playing video games, playing video games on his cell phone, and writing about playing video games. He’s also the co-author of So You Created a Wormhole: The Time Traveler’s Guide to Time Travel, which attempts to mix time travel pop culture with some semblance of science, as well as tips on the appropriate means of riding dinosaurs. Check out his profile.

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