The iPad is still the first and last word when it comes to the tablet market, according to a new Gartner forecast. The research firm projects the Apple device will account for nearly three-quarters of tablet sales this year and more than half through 2014.
At the same time, Gartner lowered its estimate for Android tablets this year, citing slower-than-expected demand because of high prices and a lack of compelling models. Besides Apple's iOS, no other tablet platform will claim more than 5% of tablet sales in 2011, the firm said.
Overall media tablet sales worldwide are on pace to total 63.6 million units, up 261% from 17.6 million units last year. That total will grow more than fivefold to 326.3 million units in 2015.
Despite scores of new tablets hitting store shelves this year from companies including Samsung, Research in Motion, HP and Motorola, Apple has maintained a strong grip on its early lead in the space. Gartner estimates the company's share of the tablet market will fall only about 10 percentage points from a year ago, with iPad sales jumping to 47 million.
"This is because Apple delivers a superior and unified user experience across its hardware, software and services," said Carolina Milanesi, research vice president at Gartner. Unless competitors can respond with a similar approach, she added, challenges to Apple's hegemony would be minimal.
While Google's Android platform powers some 50 different tablets, including the Samsung Galaxy Tab and Motorola's Xoom, it hasn't yet seen the kind of growth it experienced on smartphones. "So far, Android's appeal in the tablet market has been constrained by high prices, weak user interface and limited tablet applications," said Milanesi.
As a result, Gartner dropped its sales forecast for Android tablets by 28% this year -- to 11 million units. The firm said its reduction would have been greater had it not been for the success of lower-end tablets in Asia, and the expectations around the launch of Amazon's tablet. Android's overall market share will increase only to 17.3% from 14.3% last year.
Gartner suggested the upcoming version of Android, called Ice Cream Sandwich, could help to smooth over fragmentation of the platform across smartphones and tablets when it is released in the fourth quarter. The firm said RIM's QNX operating system looks promising, but the operating system is still in the early stages of development.
A separate report this week indicated the company is lowering production of its PlayBook tablet in the face of dismal sales, after launching in April. It shipped only 200,000 units in the second quarter, well below expectations.
And while Windows 8 has generated positive buzz, Gartner warned that it could be short-lived if Microsoft's push to use the new OS across different devices compromises its usability. By the time the platform is released next year, Apple and Android will also be that much more entrenched as the top tablet players.