5 Problems With Gartner’s Tablet Forecast

Apple’s iPad is poised to continue its overwhelming lead in tablet sales until 2015, holding 47.1 percent of the market according to research firm Gartner (s it). Google’s Android (s goog) tablets will slowly catch up to nab 38.6 percent of sales by then, while media slates built upon platforms such as MeeGo, QNX (s rimm) and webOS (s hpq) will barely be a blip on the radar, accounting for just a combined 14 percent of tablet sales four years from now. On the surface, these predictions may sound logical, but upon closer inspection, there’s more wrong than right here.

  1. 2015 is at least two (or more) product cycles away. In the past 12 months, Apple’s iPad (s aapl) has already undergone one hardware revision as well as gained more software functionality: a dual-core processor with improved graphics, two cameras, and the ability to multitask, for example. While the iPad may not see monumental design changes each year, Apple is sure to evolve the device several times in the next four years. The same holds true for other tablet makers using different platforms. Simply put: It’s too early to predict what the tablet market will look like several device iterations from now due to powerful new processors on the way, faster mobile broadband in wider coverage areas and improvements in mobile software and apps.
  2. No respect for the underdogs. Gartner’s expectations partially suggest HP’s $1.2 billion investment to purchase Palm wasn’t worth the money. Granted, HP bought Palm to use webOS on smartphones, printers and PCs too, but according to Gartner, in 2015 webOS tablets will only account for 8.9 million sales. Putting that in perspective, Apple sold 15 million iPads in its first year of introduction. The tablet tide will lift all boats and unless HP has a complete clunker on its hands with the TouchPad — which I doubt based on the evolution of webOS, an interface that already provides a fantastic user experience — surely the S.S. webOS will rise too.
  3. Neglect for enterprise. Apple’s iPad has already made huge strides in the enterprise, but it’s important to remember it did so based partly because it’s the only game in town. Corporations that rely heavily on existing enterprise architecture from Research In Motion and HP will be influenced to consider tablets from these two vendors. Expect both to be cutting deals with I.T. procurement areas by bundling new tablets with services, laptops, and servers.
  4. Over-reaction to the Honeycomb hold. There’s no question that recent news of Google holding back Honeycomb from the open source community has created a controversy over Google’s commitment to “openness” with Android. Perhaps it’s time for Google to own more of the Android platform in order to provide a better end-user experience. Regardless, the Gartner forecast suggests that Google’s action will limit Android tablet growth for the next several years, saying it will “slow the price decline and ultimately cap market share.” Pardon my language, but I say poppycock! Cheap Android tablets from second- or third-tier vendors typically provide a poor experience, meaning they don’t sell and therefore, Android isn’t gaining significant market share through those avenues anyway. On a related note: did Gartner miss the recent news of three solid-looking tablet computers from Acer, ASUS and Samsung that are all priced well below the cheapest iPad 2 model?
  5. Where are Amazon (s amzn) and Barnes & Noble (s bks)? Android may not surpass the iOS tablet market share by 2015, or ever, but an entire Android segment is missing from the forecast: e-readers that are transforming into tablets. Barnes & Noble has publicly stated its intent to turn the Nook Color into a rich Android tablet; the company plans a software update this spring to do just that and is already accepting third-party applications for its app store. Meanwhile, Amazon has left plenty of clues that it too may pursue a tablet strategy, including heavy support for Android with digital music, e-books and its own Android app store, which launched last month. The Kindle is Amazon’s best-selling product thanks to the Kindle ecosystem; Amazon could duplicate such success on an Android tablet thanks to its digital media offerings, brand name and software store.

To be sure, Apple’s iPad will continue to own this market, at least in the near future. RIM and HP haven’t yet released their tablet products yet, although both are coming soon. That means both are well behind Apple in terms of time, consumer awareness and developer mindset, although RIM is leveraging Android software on its PlayBook to make up for an app shortfall. Google’s Honeycomb appears rushed to market and isn’t yet a mature platform, but if the Android smartphone market is any indication, Google will move quickly to improve the Honeycomb experience.

The tablet wars have just begun, and it’s far too early to call a winner, let alone who will be in fifth place by the year 2015. Picking the finishing order of horses in the tablet race for 2011 or perhaps 2012 is a much smarter bet, and even that could be tricky given how fast this market is moving.