Gartner Predicts Three More Years of iPad Tyranny

Apple's iPad tablet is a cool device and all, but it's not the end-all-be-all of slates. It doesn't do Flash, there aren't any USB or microSD card slots, and the built-in cameras are terrible. These are all things you know. You also know the iPad rules the tablet world, not in performance or even in weight or size anymore, but in market share. According to market research firm Gartner, don't expect that to change anytime soon.

Let's start with tablets in general. Gartner says worldwide slate sales are on pace to reach 63.6 million units by the end of the year, a whopping 261.4 percent increase from 2010. Get used to that kind of explosive growth, because tablets will continue to sell like gangbusters through 2015. Apple, meanwhile, will lead the way for at least the next three years, Gartner says.

"We expect Apple to maintain a market share lead throughout our forecast period by commanding more than 50 percent of the market until 2014," Carolina Milanesi, research vice president at Gartner. "This is because Apple delivers a superior and unified user experience across its hardware, software and services. Unless competitors can respond with a similar approach, challenges to Apple’s position will be minimal. Apple had the foresight to create this market and in doing that planned for it as far as component supplies such as memory and screen. This allowed Apple to bring the iPad out at a very competitive price and no compromise in experience among the different models that offer storage and connectivity options."

Android presents the biggest challenge to Apple and is on pace to account for 17.3 percent of all tablet sales by the end of 2011. However, Gartner also lowered its forecast of Android tablets by 28 percent from last quarter's projections and said it would have been even greater if not for lower-end tablet sales in Asia.

"So far, Android’s appeal in the tablet market has been constrained by high prices, weak user interface and limited tablet applications," Ms. Milanesi said. "Google will address the fragmentation of Android across smartphone and tablet form factors within the next Android release, known as ‘Ice Cream Sandwich,’ which we expect to see in the fourth quarter of 2011."

Do you think Apple can maintain its lead for the next three or four years, or do you envision Android closing the gap by then and even leapfrogging ahead?