Worldwide tablet sales to end users are expected to total 118.9 million units in 2012, with Apple continuing to dominate and the Android camp struggling to replicate its success in the smartphone market, according to market research firm Gartner.
That global sales forecast, which was released Tuesday, represents a 98% increase from 2011, during which 60 million tablets were sold.
Apple will sell about 73 million tablets during 2012, giving it 61.4% market share, compared to 66.6% during 2011, Gartner said.
At the same time, Android will not make much headway. Sales of tablets based on Google's OS will grow from 17.3 million to 37.9 million, allowing its market share to increase by 3 percentage points to 32%, according to Gartner.
"Basically, Android's market share isn't going to increase that much compared to 2011," said Roberta Cozza, principal analyst at Gartner.
The two biggest vendors will be Samsung Electronics and Amazon with its Kindle, which will get a boost from an expected international rollout.
There are several reasons why Android won't be able to challenge Apple. Google and its hardware partners haven't done enough to make the ecosystem more interesting for users, according to Cozza.
The main issue is the lack of applications dedicated to tablets that, therefore, take advantage of their capabilities. That's due partly to the fact that traction among developers for tablet apps hasn't been as great as with smartphones, Cozza said.
Fragmentation also continues to be an issue, according to Gartner. For example, the use of different GPUs (graphic processor units) makes life difficult for games developers.
However, Apple's dominance will gradually be eroded. By 2016, tablets sales will have grown to about 369 million units. Apple will have a 46% of the market and the Android camp's share will have grown to 37%, as the latter platform matures.
The third horse in the tablet race over the next couple of years will be Microsoft. As the launch of Windows 8 draws closer, the hype is picking up. Its arrival will allow Microsoft and its partners to compete on a more equal footing with Apple's iPads and Android-based tablets.
By the end of the year, Microsoft and its partners will have sold about 4.9 million tablets to mainly enterprise users, giving it a 4.1% market share.
Sales will grow, but Microsoft will remain the third-largest platform and its share will not surpass 12% by 2016, according to Gartner.
That is based on the assumption that tablets running a Microsoft OS will still mainly be purchased for enterprise users, according to Cozza. But Microsoft is a bit of a wild card in the tablet market. If the company can turn Windows Phone into a success among consumers, that could also help propel tablet sales, she said.
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