Apple's smash-hit iPad tablet computer is forcing analysts to break free from their conservative estimates.
Days after Apple officials claimed they had sold 3.27 million iPads in the quarter ending June 26, Forrester Research analyst Sara Rotman Epps called her previous forecast for tablet computers in the United States conservative and vowed to update her numbers later this year after collecting more information from the market.
Epps said that in Forrester's forecast from early June, the research firm said U.S. consumers would buy 3.5 million tablets in 2010 and 8.4 million in 2011, with 59 million U.S. consumers owning a tablet computer by 2015.
That also includes machines based on Microsoft Windows, HP's newly acquired WebOS from Palm and Google's Android operating system, which is finding its way into tablets from Dell, Lenovo, Acer, Asus and even Google and Verizon.
However, Forrester didn't count Apple's global iPad sales, or account for any units sold into the enterprise.
"We're continually monitoring new industry and consumer data to inform our analysis," Epps wrote in a July 22 blog post. "In this case, we missed the mark regarding our short-term forecast, so we're revisiting our initial work."
And that, she said, is largely because of the iPad's surprising momentum into the normally sluggish summer months, when people are spending on family vacations instead of consumer electronics devices. Perhaps families are buying tablets to surf the Web in their beach houses and hotels.
Whatever the use cases, the iPad is not selling like the typical consumer device, Epps said.
"When it went on sale in April, we assumed that sales would be strong based on pent-up demand for a hyped product; we then assumed that sales would slow in a summer slump, as is common with consumer technology purchases; and that sales would spike again in the holiday season. But the iPad isn't behaving like other consumer devices: It has a steamroller of momentum behind it that indicates incredibly strong demand for this entirely new form factor."
That certainly opens the door for tablets based on Android, Windows and HP's WebOS platform. It also opens the door for the cannibalization of the PC market.
As hardware and software for tablets improve, users may eschew their desktops and laptops for the sleeker form factor with the touch screen, as Apple COO Tim Cook recently suggested.
Epps said in June tablets will cannibalize netbooks in 2012 and outsell netbooks by 2014, partly because netbooks don't sync data across devices the way the iPad does.
She opined that the iPad went so viral because it was aided by social network users who are sharing information on Facebook and tweeting on Twitter.
According to a June Forrester survey of almost 4,000 U.S. Web users, the average iPad buyer is 20 percent more likely to use Facebook and 40 percent more likely to use Twitter than the average U.S. online consumer.
The word is out and the iPad buzz continues unabated; nearly 10 million U.S. consumers told Forrester in June they own or intend to buy an iPad.