Tablet sales will boom to 208 million units by 2014

Global sales of media tablets are expected to reach 19.5 million units this year and as much as 208 million units in 2014, according to research and analyst firm Gartner.

Gartner’s definition of a media tablet is a slate device that offers touch support and runs a lightweight OS such as iOS or Android. It cited the iPad, Saumsung Galaxy Tab and Cisco Cius as examples of media tablets.

The company expects the market to boom over the next few years, driven by the success of the iPad. It forecasted that 19.5 million units of media tablets would be sold by the end of this year, while 2011 will see a 181 percent increase to 54.8 million, primarily due to the flood of iPad rivals that are expected next year.

Gartner sees the trend continuing for several more years too, with sales in 2012 expected to be nearly double that of 2011, at 103 million units. 2013 should see a roughly 50 percent increase to 154 million units, with 208 million sales expected in 2014. 

North America is expected to account for 61 percent of media tablet sales this year, but that will shrink to 43 percent in 2014 as the devices enter other global markets.

It is not clear exactly when the market will reach its peak, but the forecast trend seems to suggests that 2011 will see the highest growth, with slower growth following year on year after that. By 2015 the market may have stabilised. 

However, Gartner has recently toned down its projections for sales in the PC market in 2010 from 17 percent to 15.3 percent. While the tablet market currently looks strong, its forecast may be somewhat optimistic and in need of review a few months down the line.

Gartner believes that 7-inch media tablets will suffer from direct competition with high-end smartphones, since there is very little to differentiate the two, particularly with both usually offering the same OS. It believes that users will choose a smartphone over the smaller tablets, as it will be hard to justify owning both.

The 10-inch models will do well in the enterprise market, with Gartner forecasting that they will become useful as companions to notebooks or as a secondary device for taking out on the road.

Gartner does not see these tablets replacing notebooks for knowledge workers, and instead sees them as becoming the third device in addition to the notebook and smartphone. Due to the expenses of buying so many devices Gartner believes organisations will not pay for the tablets, forcing users to buy them personally.

“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,” said Carolina Milanesi, research vice president at Gartner. “Mini notebooks will suffer from the strongest cannibalization threat as media tablet average selling prices (ASPs) drop below $300 over the next 2 years.”