Michelle Clancy ©RapidTVNews | 23-09-2011

Despite the proliferation of Android tablets of late, Apple iPad will still dominate worldwide media tablet sales through the holiday buying season and beyond.

The iPad is projected to account for 73.4% of worldwide media tablet sales at the end of 2011, new research from Gartner has revealed.

Still, Android is slowly encroaching on Steve Jobs' baby: The iPad's year-end market share will be down from 83 percent in 2010. Apple will remain on top for at least another two or so years, but complete market dominance will eventually wane.

"We expect Apple to maintain a market share lead throughout our forecast period by commanding more than 50 percent of the market until 2014," Carolina Milanesi, research vice president at Gartner. "This is because Apple delivers a superior and unified user experience across its hardware, software and services."

Even though it's making gains, the third quarter performance for Android fell short of expectations. Android tablets are on pace to ship 11 million units in 2011, accounting for 17.3% of media tablet sales-- up slightly from Android’s 2010 market share of 14.3%, but representing Gartner’s forecast for the Android OS has been lowered by 28% from last quarter’s projection. The reduction would have been greater had it not been for the success of lower-end tablets in Asia, and the expectations around the launch of Amazon's tablet.

Despite the entrance of Android tablets that offer design and performance parity, "Android’s appeal in the tablet market has been constrained by high prices, weak user interface and limited tablet applications" Milanesi said.

Google will address the fragmentation of Android across smartphone and tablet form factors within the next Android release, known as ‘Ice Cream Sandwich,’ which should be launched in the fourth quarter of 2011. Gartner said that Android can count on strong support from key OEMs, plus it has a sizeable developer communit: its application ecosystem is second only to Apple’s.

Overall tablet sales are on pace to total 63.6 million units, a 261.4 percent increase from 2010 sales of 17.6 million units-- a sure sign of market adolescence, if not maturity. Gartner expects media tablet sales to continue to experience strong growth through 2015, when sales are forecast to reach 326.3 million units. Despite the growth, Gartner does not expect any platforms other than Android and iOS to have more than 5% share of the tablet market in 2011.

"Apple had the foresight to create this market, and in doing that, planned for it as far as component supplies such as memory and screen," Milanesi said. "This allowed Apple to bring the iPad out at a very competitive price and no compromise in experience among the different models that offer storage and connectivity options."

As more vendors will arrive in 2012, Gartner analysts said it’s important they concentrate on delivering a rich user experience based on a strong tie between smartphones and tablets, a good set of apps, an intuitive user interface, and the ability to share content easily between devices.

"Most of Apple's competitors are struggling to meet Apple's prices without considerably sacrificing margins," said Roberta Cozza, principal analyst at Gartner. "Screen quality and processing power are the two hardware features that vendors cannot afford to compromise on,""They should consider everything else ‘nice to have,’ rather than essential, in order to keep bills-of-materials costs competitive with those of the iPad."

Gartner analysts said Research In Motion’s QNX OS is a promising platform, but it is still in the early stages of development. RIM’s main challenge will be to attract more support from application developers as the company is going through a tough period, with considerable pressure on its smartphone business.

The current buzz around Windows 8 driven by the demonstrations seen at the Build conference might be short-lived if Microsoft’s push to use the new OS across devices comes at a compromise in usability. Moreover, the late arrival might limit its appeal, especially to consumers, as Apple and Android will be more entrenched by then. Microsoft’s platform will find its biggest opportunities in the enterprise segment, where IT departments could benefit from smoother integration with existing Microsoft software.