The tablet boom is accelerating. That's the key takeaway in a quarterly report from industry researcher International Data Corp.
In its latest Worldwide Quarterly Tablet Tracker, the Framingham, Mass.-based company predicted worldwide tablet sales will more than double within four years, to 282.7 million. In the current year, IDC increased its sales estimate to 122.3 million, from its previous forecast of 117.1 million.
The Android 'Catalyst'
Tom Mainelli, research director for tablets at IDC, said in a statement that his company expects demand for tablets to accelerate in the fourth quarter and beyond, "as the market shifts toward smaller, more mobile screen sizes and lower price points." He added that Android tablets are gaining market traction, due to the release of solid products from Google, Amazon, Samsung and others, and that Apple's launch last month of its iPad mini positions it for a strong holiday season.
Android's position in worldwide tablet share is expected to increase from 38.8 percent last year to 42.7 percent by the end of this year, IDC said, while the market share for Apple's iOS platform is expected to drop slightly from 56.3 percent last year to 53.8 percent in 2012. The new Windows 8 and Windows RT tablets, which have started rolling out, are expected to grow from 2.9 percent in 2012 to 10.2 percent within four years.
In 2016, IDC said, Apple will still be first in tablet OS, with 49.7 percent of the worldwide market, while Android will have 39.7 percent.
Ryan Reither, program manager for IDC's Mobile Device Trackers, told news media that Android is taking hold in the tablet market as it has done for smartphones. He said that the open-source OS is acting "as the catalyst for growth in the low-cost segment in emerging markets," given the low barrier to participation that Android offers to manufacturers, while high-end tablets from Samsung, Lenovo and Asus are also utilizing the platform.
Dropping e-Reader Sales
IDC makes a distinction between tablets and dedicated e-readers, and predicted that tablets' good sales will be bad for e-readers. In 2012, it projects that e-readers will drop to 19.9 million sales, down from last year's 27.78 million units.
The Tracker noted that, although some buyers prefer a dedicated e-reader like the front-lit ones being offered from Amazon and Barnes & Noble, "most buyers are gravitating toward multi-use tablet products and finding a 'good enough' reading experience on these traditional back-lit tablets."
The IDC report echoes other studies that come to comparable conclusions about tablets, as the flat devices become widely used for consumption like Web surfing or online video watching and take a key position in the touch-oriented strategy of the new Windows 8. In June, for instance, the Yankee Group issued a report that predicted "post-PC devices," including smartphones as well as tablets, would outsell PCs within four years.
However, the tablet form factor itself may be changing quickly. The IDC report, for instance, discusses tablets as the standalone devices they have been since the iPad turbocharged the category, but Windows 8 is leading to a flood of hybrid devices that are part tablet and part laptop.
The IDC report clearly counts Microsoft's Windows 8-based version of its Surface tablet, with a keyboard-cover that effectively turns the product into a laptop. But it doesn't seem to include the Windows 8 laptops with screens that swivel and twist so that the laptop quickly becomes a tablet, such as models from Lenovo.