New products and growing consumer demand could trigger a surge in global tablet shipments to 117 million for 2012, according to IDC.
The new forecast is an increase over IDC's previous prediction, which was looking for tablet shipments of 107 million for the year. Peering over the horizon, the research firm now expects shipments to reach 166 million next year, up from its prior estimate of 142 million. And by 2016, shipments could soar as high as 261 million.
"Despite ongoing economic concerns in most regions of the world, consumers continue to buy tablets in record numbers, and we expect particularly strong demand in the fourth quarter," Tom Mainelli, research director for IDC's Mobile Connected Devices, said today in a statement.
Apple's iPad is still the tablet leader and will retain its top spot for the rest of the year, according to IDC. But new Android and Windows tablets will expand the market by giving consumers more choices, especially during the holiday-shopping season.
What does IDC's crystal ball see for Windows tablets?
Windows 7 tablets shipping now and Windows RT and Windows 8 tablets shipping in the final quarter will capture around 4 percent of the market for 2012. By 2016, these devices could own as much as 11 percent of the market.
"Tablets running Microsoft's upcoming Windows 8 and RT operating systems, including the company's own Surface tablets, will add some momentum," IDC research analyst Jennifer Song said in a statement. "However, we expect shipments to remain low in the fourth quarter as high prices and consumer confusion around these devices will limit their appeal. Also, in the second half of the year Android should benefit from the success of the Nexus 7 and Amazon's launch of new Kindle Fires."
Apple's lead will slip, but only slightly, from 60 percent of the market this year to 58 percent by 2016. Android's share will also decline, IDC said, from 35 percent this year to 30.5 percent in another four years.
Not mentioned by IDC, Apple may extend its dominance of the tablet market if reports of an iPad Mini prove true.
Rumored to launch next month, the smaller iPad could challenge Google's Nexus 7, Amazon's Kindle Fire, and other 7-inch tablets.
On the Windows front, Microsoft's upcoming Surface device has upset at least a couple of Windows 8 tablet vendors, who see it as unwanted competition. Last month, Acer Chairman J.T. Wang urged Microsoft not to price Surface too low. And Lenovo CEO Yang Yuanqing labeled Microsoft just another competitor but one he believes his company can beat on hardware.