Apple's iPad will help sales of media tablets around the world hit 19.5 million units this year, according to a Gartner forecast out this week.
Hot consumer demand will also prompt tablet sales to jump 181 percent to 54.8 million units next year, followed by 208 million units by 2014, projects Gartner.
North American consumers will account for 61 percent of tablet sales this year. But as these devices reach out to more of the world, North America's share will drop to 43 percent in four years. This year, tablets with both Wi-Fi and cell (3G) connections will add up to 55 percent of all sales. But by 2014, these dual-connection devices will scoop up 80 percent of all sales.
Gartner defines a media tablet as a slate-type touch-screen device with a lightweight operating system, such as Apple's iOS, Google's Android, HP's WebOS, or Nokia's Meego.
Media tablets will play a part in the business world, though only as companion devices, suggests Gartner. For now, workers are taking tablets on the road for quick access to e-mail, the Web, and a few online business applications. But these devices are often third in line behind notebooks and smartphones. As a result, companies aren't paying for tablets for corporate use--rather employees are buying their own tablets to use at work and home.
Tablets will also become more of a family gadget as well as a personal one. Seen as simpler than full-blown PCs, tablets also appeal to a wider range of people from technophobes to power users. As their prices drop, these devices will become one of several that hang around the house to be shared by the entire family.
Gartner also chimed in on a question that's been debated among analysts and retailers--will tablets cannibalize sales of laptops and other consumer devices?
A Bernstein Research analyst believes the iPad has already been stealing sales away from portable PCs and will affect other gadgets. Best Buy Chairman Brian Dunn recently said that the iPad had cannibalized sales from laptop PCs by as much as 50 percent, but then quickly retracted that statement.
A report out yesterday from ABI Research said that media tablets are not outpacing Netbooks, mostly due to the iPad's average selling price of $650 or more. The report added that more competition on price would be needed.
What's Gartner's take?
The research firm didn't comment on current trends but offered a peek into the near future. Gartner believes low-end consumer notebooks will suffer only slightly from tablet cannibalization. Some cannibalization may also occur from 7-inch tablets encroaching on the territory of high-end smartphones. The average user would be hard pressed to justify buying both since they serve similar functions. Instead, consumers with a 7-inch tablet might go for a cheaper and smaller smartphone.
However, Gartner thinks Netbooks and other consumer devices may be in for a bumpy ride as tablets continue to take off and eventually fall in price.
"The all-in-one nature of media tablets will result in the cannibalization of other consumer electronics devices such as e-readers, gaming devices, and media players," Carolina Milanesi, research vice president at Gartner, said in a statement. "Mini notebooks (Netbooks) will suffer from the strongest cannibalization threat as media tablet average selling prices drop below $300 over the next 2 years."