Compared with the meteoric rise of Apple’s iPad, tablet computers based on Google’s Android operating system have started slow out of the gate.
However, new research from Gartner finds Android tablets will saturate the market enough to help the platform command 40 percent market share by 2015, up from 20 percent through 2011.
That’s second to iPad’s 47 percent, and an almost unthinkable target number given the slow sales of the Samsung Galaxy Tab and Motorola Mobility’s Xoom slate, which is based on the Android 3.0 “Honeycomb” operating system tailored for tablets.
Deutsche Bank estimated that Motorola has sold 100,000 Xooms since its launch Feb. 24, a number that pales in comparison to the hundreds of thousands of iPad 2s that shipped in the first weekend of sales. There are anecdotes that consumers aren’t happy with the Honeycomb software, finding it hard to use or even buggy.
Even so, just as Android has stormed up the smartphone charts by sheer exposure on more than 100 devices all over the world, a proliferation of Honeycomb tablets will buoy sales for the platform over the next four years.
“Volume will be driven by support from many players, the ecosystem of applications for tablets getting more competitive and some platform flexibility allowing lower price points,” said Gartner analyst Roberta Cozza.
However, Cozza also said Google’s decision to delay the release of its Honeycomb source code to open source will yield “optimal tablet implementations” of higher quality. This could mean Android tablet prices will drop at a slower pace than they have in the smartphone market, possibly capping Android market share.
In the near term, the iPad will corral 69 percent market share through 2011. With Android nabbing 20 percent, there appears to be only 11 percent market opportunity for HP’s TouchPad and Research In Motion’s PlayBook to fight over.
Gartner analyst Carolina Milanesi noted that RIM made a smart move betting on the QNX operating system to bring performance, graphics and multitasking to the PlayBook, it will take time and effort for RIM to build out a sufficient application ecosystem around QNX.
For example, Apple’s App Store has 350,000-plus apps for iOS, while Google’s Android Market offers 150,000 apps.
“This will limit RIM’s market share growth over the forecast period,” Milanesi said. “It will be mainly organizations that will be interested in RIM’s tablets because they either already have RIM’s infrastructure deployed or have stringent security requirements.”
Intel’s Meego platform and HP’s webOS platform for the TouchPad will have limited appeal unless they can grow that business, she added.
Gartner’s tablet report comes just days after the researcher said Android will hit almost 50 percent of smartphones worldwide by 2015, with Apple’s iPhone garnering 19.4 percent share through 2011.
Gartner also believes smartphone sales will embolden users to buy tablets based on the same platform as handsets to port applications across mobile devices.
“Vendors developing on Android should be prepared to see more cross brand ownership as some users might put OS over brand when it comes to the purchasing decision,” Milanesi explained.