If you thought a lot of people were scooping up tablet computers now, the market will be through the roof in the next six years. That's the prediction of In-Stat, a Surrey, U.K.-based market research firm that specializes in mobile Internet and digital entertainment.
Quadruple the Market?
A report by that firm predicts 250 million tablets will be shipped by manufacturers in 2017 -- or more than four times the projection for 2011 announced this month by global investment bank UBS of more than 60 million tablets.
The UBS figure includes 37.9 million Apple iPads and 22.2 million tablets powered by Google's Android operating system, which are made by a range of manufacturers, including Motorola, Samsung and Toshiba.
Well into the second half of 2011, In-Stat sees more growth as prices drop and new manufacturers jump into the market.
"The tablet market and its associated ecosystem are still evolving," said Jim McGregor, In-Stat chief technology strategist, in the report. "Over the next few generations we will see more differentiation between devices that are targeting different market segments and usage models. In addition, competitive devices and service pricing will bring tablets into the mainstream consumer and enterprise markets."
McGregor said tablets are part of an increase in smart-connected devices in our daily lives.
"These new devices mark a significant change in the electronics industry, where the content and applications are now the key differentiators and innovation drivers," he said.
While Apple and, to a lesser extent, Android devices are taking off, not every manufacturer has been able to hit the mark with tablets.
Hewlett-Packard's webOS-based TouchPad may earn a place in history as one of the biggest technology-market failures, with the company discontinuing the product and dropping the minimum price from $499 to $99 last week after seven weeks of poor sales.
But as younger consumers gain buying power and the barrage of apps makes it possible to do just about anything with a tablet, the devices likely will represent more of a practical than a novelty or luxury purchase.
Tablet developers "will continue to update and upgrade and make these things do more in our lives," said technology analyst Jeff Kagan. "They want these tablets to become the remote control for our lives. They are picking up steam. More people buy them every day."
But looking so far ahead, how can anyone be sure another form factor won't push back tablet growth?
"The projection must be based on current activity," Kagan said. "That is not really reliable long-term, since so much can change tomorrow. Look at RIM: Solid growth until the iPhone came out four years ago. Look at previous micro laptops a few years ago. They lasted only a few years till tablets appeared. The real question is will tablets still be on fire in a few years, and what comes next? No one knows what they will do next."