Why the decline of the iPad is highly exaggerated

Yet another analyst report has joined the chorus of those claiming Apple(s aapl) will see its majority market share for tablet devices slide to less than a majority by 2014-2015. This time, it’s analyst Jack Gold, echoing similar sentiments made earlier in the year by Gartner, which the company reiterated this past September. (s it)

It’s understandable that analysts would predict a similar sort of trajectory for the iPad that the iPhone has experienced; after all, a tablet is just a larger smartphone, and both categories of devices run basically the same mobile operating systems, at least as far as iOS and Android(s goog) are concerned.

The only proven tablet OS

But the experience on both Android and iOS tablets for end users isn’t nearly the same as the experience on phones using both platforms. If Android feels a bit immature on smartphone hardware, it feels exceedingly so on tablet devices. IOS, on the other hand, feels tailor-made for each. Nothing about it seems hasty, or an attempt to quickly gain a foothold in a market the OS was shoehorned into in the first place, the way Honeycomb did. Ice Cream Sandwich could improve the situation, but at most, it will probably be an evolutionary update, if the history of Android OS iteration is any example.

In other words, Android has yet to prove it can even deliver a mature, feature-complete tablet OS designed to take advantage of larger-screened devices. That Gold suggests in his note that QNX (s rimm) and Microsoft (s msft) will be able to each acquire 10 percent of the tablet market by 2015 is an even greater reach, since those platforms have even more to prove in terms of market relevance. RIM can’t even get email working on its platform until 2012, and Microsoft’s software is a risky desktop/mobile hybrid that has yet to see a public release. Predicting either’s ascendancy at this point to a solid but distant third is like seeing Zune and anticipating it would eventually be a serious contender alongside the iPod.

Distribution model differences

Predicting the iPad vs Android tablets market to proceed along the same lines of the iPhone vs. Android phones market also discounts key differences in the distribution model of both devices. Tablets, despite some support from carriers for 3G data plans, stand in for computers more than phones for most consumers, and that’s the way many people shop for them, too.

Carriers, then, don’t have nearly as much say in which devices get pushed as they do with smartphones. In the past (and still today), if you wanted an iPhone, in many markets you were stuck with one or two carriers. If you wanted network choice, you had to go to a different device. Also, carriers have tended to favor Android because it offers them more customization options, allowing them greater controller over the customer relationship.

So long as the tablet isn’t inextricably tied to distribution through network operators, Apple will have an advantage, since it has the strongest marketing, sales and retail network of any device OEM.