Apple (s aapl) will remain firmly seated at the head of the table when it comes to the sale of tablet devices through 2012, according to new analyst estimates. Research firm DisplaySearch predicts Apple will continue to control the tablet market for at least the next two years, and the segment will continue to see rapid growth. But might Apple’s dominance in this space be of an even longer-lasting variety?
DisplaySearch estimates the iPad 2 will sell approximately 40 million units in 2011, which represents significant growth over the 15 million original iPads sold in the first year following its launch. That will be out of a total of 60 million tablet devices sold during all of 2012, which would mean competitors to Apple’s platform will gain little traction in 2012.
The research firm also predicts a massive explosion in tablet market growth by 2016, when it expects to see 260 million tablet devices shipped worldwide. Consider that 351 million PCs shipped in 2010, and by 2016, tablet sales may have cut into that number considerably, and we could see a market where tablets match or even exceed traditional PC sales.
DisplaySearch believes that beginning in around 2013, Apple’s tablet competitors will have finally have caught up to Apple and be nearing their sales volume (though that’s all competitor sales added up, not taken individually, so Apple will still be the dominant force in the market). While competitors may yet gain a significant foothold, I have to disagree with DisplaySearch’s assumption that the market will eventually open up as much as it predicts.
The research firm is laboring under the impression that the iPad’s growth trajectory will mirror that of the iPhone, but a more apt comparison is the iPod. As with its media player, Apple entered the tablet game when there was relatively little competition, and none that already had considerable market presence. The iPhone came into a cell phone market already rich with strong competitors, like Nokia (s nok) and BlackBerry(s rimm). The iPod still had a 73.9 percent share of the media player market in 2009, according to NPD. The iPad may have made some space for competitors in the most recent market share surveys, but it doesn’t follow that it will continue to cede ground at that rate.
Apple will win the tablet market for another two years, as DisplaySearch predicts, but don’t expect it to stop there. The iPad is a category-defining device, just like the iPod, and failing to account for that in any projections will lead to gross underestimations of its ability to continue to succeed.