The iPad's ever-expanding number of competitors is expected to continue nibbling away at its tablet market share lead, but Apple will continue to dominate for some time, holding onto the market-share majority through at least 2015, according to market research firm Gartner.
In an April 11 report, Gartner put Apple's 2010 year-end market share tally at 84 percent. By the end of 2011, the analysts expect that to have dropped to 69 percent. It will continue falling, but Apple will still command 47 percent by 2015-while Android's market share climbs from 14 percent in 2010 to 24 percent in 2012 and 39 percent in 2015.
Apple already is seeing the results of the rapidly growing number of competitors. According to Strategy Analytics, Apple's tablet market share was 96 percent during the third quarter of 2010, but IDC analysts said it dropped to 73 percent the following quarter.
That Apple should retain the lion's share is remarkable, considering the dozens of brands-including industry leaders such as HTC, Samsung and Motorola-that have chosen Android for their tablet platforms. As much as Apple is doing things right, it appears its competitors have initially also gotten the game wrong, focusing on hardware before leveraging the platform ecosystem, Gartner Vice President Carolina Milanesi said in a statement.
Many "are making the same mistake that was made in the first response wave to the iPhone, as they are prioritizing hardware features over applications, services and overall user experience," said Milanesi. "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."
She added that consumers will want a tablet running the same OS as their smartphones.
"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 said.
Gartner has forecast sales of Android tablets to jump from 2.5 million units in 2010 to nearly 14 million units 2011, 26 million-plus by 2012 and 113.5 million units by 2015.
In second place, QNX, the software run by Research In Motion's upcoming BlackBerry PlayBook tablet, is expected to account for 4 million units this year, before gradually climbing to 29.5 million by 2015.
According to Milanesi, it will take some time "and significant effort" for RIM to attract developers and create an ecosystem as viable as Android or Apple's iOS. Accounting for the figures, she said, 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."
RIM, which has very high hopes for the PlayBook, will launch the tablet in 20,000-plus retail outlets April 19.
Following QNX, Gartner said, will be webOS-the platform Hewlett-Packard purchased from Palm and plans to include on not only its TouchPad tablets but all of its PCs (in addition to a Microsoft OS), beginning in 2012. That ultimately will create, in the words of HP CEO Leo Apotheker, a "massive platform."
By year's end, webOS is expected to account for 3 million units, for 4 percent market share, before climbing to 4 million units and 4 percent market share, and 9 million units in 2012, but just 3 percent market share by 2015.
In total, the tablet market is expected to finish out 2011 with nearly 70 million tablets sold. By 2012, that's expected to reach more than 108 million, and by 2015, Gartner expects the total to come in at 294 million units.
Gartner Principal Analyst Roberta Cozza said volume would be driven by "support from many players, the ecosystem of applications for tablets getting more competitive and some platform flexibility allowing lower price points."
Pricing however-in part due to the new licensing model that Google introduced with "Honeycomb," its name for the tablet-geared Android 3.0-"will drop at a slower pace than what we have seen in the smartphone market," Cozza added.