The growth in tablet shipments shows no signs of slowing anytime soon, but not all vendors benefit equally or even see the same opportunities.
Tablets have become the driving force behind overall PC shipments. For example, research firm Canalys recently forecast overall shipments (desktops, notebooks and tablets) will reach 493.1 million units this year; 7% higher than last year.
Tablets will account for 37% of the market, up from a quarter in 2012. And looking ahead to 2017, Canalys expects that 713.8 million PCs will ship worldwide - 64% of those will be tablets and 25% notebooks.
iPad remains the acknowledged tablet leader while Canalys says would be challenger Microsoft has its work cut out for itself to generate faster adoption of Windows 8 tablets.
“Microsoft will continue to innovate. New versions will come and its OS release cycle will gain speed,” said Canalys senior analyst Tim Coulling.
“But it must address some of the criticisms that have been directed at the OS’s user interface or it risks losing even more ground to iOS and Android in the PC space.”
Cheap Android tablets & profitable appcessories
Meanwhile, while the number of manufacturers and growth of Android tablets poses the most credible threat to iPad, a big hunk of the market is comprised of low-cost models that make little or no money.
But the popularity of these devices has forced even Microsoft allies like HP to join the gang of Android tablet providers.
“Low-priced tablets will not be lucrative, but it is necessary to compete or a vendor will simply lose relevance and scale,” said Canalys research analyst Pin-Chen Tang.
Tang thinks a new generation of high tech “appcessories” could give vendors a way to generate higher profit margins than the tablets themselves.
Canalys defines appcessories as things like wearable devices, which could include bands designed to be worn on the wrist, arm or leg, eyewear or devices in clothing.
Appcessories will have sensors, wireless communication technology, storage and many will have screens. Apps running on your smartphone or tablet will be able to communicate with appcessories.
Smaller is a big deal
Meanwhile, tablet growth will be driven largely by smaller models.
“This new influx of Android devices will provide a boost to the platform and Canalys therefore expects Android to take a 45% share this year, behind Apple at 49%,” says Tang.
“The iPad mini is expected to continue selling well, becoming more significant in terms of the product mix and spawning a further increase in consumer demand for smaller tablets.”