Tablet Device Forecasting is Proving a Challenge to Industry Analysts

In the past couple of days two market researchers have published their forecasts for the tablet market. Yesterday Juniper Research said it expects the total tablet market to hit 55 million units this year, and reach 253 million by 2016 – leading me to note that it will be close to half the size of the PC market by that time.

Today, we can see some data from Gartner as well, and they are certainly more bullish and deviate sharply from Juniper’s.  Gartner projects there will be 63.6 million tablets shipped this year and will top 326 million by 2015 – potentially well over half the size of the PC market. Last week IDC  stated a similar outlook to Gartner for this year, but didn’t even offer up any predictions for the more distant future.

While market researchers are responsible- to make predictions about the tablet market, which is doing so much to disrupt the tech industry status quo, they have to extrapolate from very little data.

The entire category has only been in existence for a year or so and, while growth has been exponential, it’s very difficult to anticipate when, and to what extent, that growth will slow.  It depends on so many qualitative factors, such as the global economy, the progress of non-Apple platforms, the development of killer tablet apps, and their acceptance as productivity devices.

What seems now to be beyond question is that tablets are seriously disruptive to the PC industry. At a price of at least $400+ many consumers who may have been looking to spend that amount on a notebook may now divert their dollars to this newer and sexier product type. Meanwhile there is a growing trends of interest in various ‘use cases’ from the business community.

“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,” said Gartner’s Carolina Milanesi, research VP on the mobile – as opposed to PC – side of things at Gartner. “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.

“So far, Android’s appeal in the tablet market has been constrained by high prices, weak user interface and limited tablet applications. 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.”

Gartner’s market data breakdown by platform is interesting.  While Android’s market share is only expected to increase slowly this year and next, Gartner sees it claiming over a third of the market by 2015 – not far behind Apple. RIM’s QNX platform is expected to gain a bit of share, but remain in the single figure percentages, and the less said about webOS creates more questions than answers.

The forecast for Microsoft – which means Windows 8 –creats a lot of questions and interest.  While over ten percent of the market in 2015 might not seem like a bad effort for a platform that won’t even make an appearance until well into 2012, Microsoft is presumably hoping for more. Roberta Cozza, also in the mobile team at Gartner, sums up the biggest challenge faced by those looking to take business away from the iPad.

“Most of Apple’s competitors are struggling to meet Apple’s prices without considerably sacrificing margins.” she said. “Screen quality and processing power are the two hardware features that vendors cannot afford to compromise on. They should consider everything else ‘nice to have,’ rather than essential, in order to keep bills-of-materials costs competitive with those of the iPad.”

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