Data released by market research firm IDC on Tuesday reveals that the iPad has dominated the nascent market for "media tablets" that it largely defined in 2010. Based on early estimates, Apple commands about 80 percent of that market for the year, while huge growth is projected for 2011 as new competitors enter the market. Despite the growing popularity of e-readers, however, media tablets still outsell them nearly 2 to 1.
IDC recently began tracking media tablets as a separate product category from e-readers and regular tablets that run a version of a full desktop OS. It defines media tablets as "tablet form factor devices with color displays larger than 5 in and smaller than 14 in running lightweight operating systems (such as Apple's iOS and Google's Android OS) and can be based on either x86 or ARM processors." They are differentiated from single-purpose devices like e-readers by "multiple connectivity technologies and a broad range of applications," though devices like the Nook Color have begun to blur that line somewhat.
In the media tablet market—largely defined by the iPad when it launched in the first half of 2010—it's no surprise that Apple currently dominates. In the second quarter of the year, Apple held a 90 percent market share. In the third quarter, Apple still held an 87.4 percent share. For the fourth quarter, which saw the introduction of the first major competitor to the iPad in the form of Samsung's Android-based Galaxy Tab, IDC is projecting that Apple will still hold about three-quarters of the media tablet market.
From the second quarter to the third quarter in 2010, IDC notes that the overall media tablet market grew 45.1 percent—not unusual for a nascent market segment. However, that growth was driven "almost exclusively" by the iPad. For now, the market is Apple's.
But new high-profile product launches expected early this year, including the Motorola Xoom and RIM PlayBook, are likely to shake the market up. "The media tablet market's rapid evolution will continue to accelerate in fourth quarter 2010 and beyond with new product and service introductions, channel expansion, price competition and experimentation with new use cases among consumers and enterprises," said IDC research director Susan Kevorkian in a statement.
While e-readers are generally much lower in cost compared to multifunction media tablets, the overall market for these devices is much smaller. IDC said that overall unit shipments for e-readers totaled 2.7 million in the third quarter of 2010, while media tablets topped 4.8 million. Amazon's Kindle is the top seller in the category, moving 1.1 million units for a 45.1 percent market share. Closest competitors Pandigital and Barnes & Noble each shipped just over 400,000 units each. For another comparison, Apple shipped 4.2 million iPads in the same quarter.
Holiday sales are expected to have boosted both media tablet and e-reader markets considerably, however. IDC's estimates for the fourth quarter are about 9 million media tablets and about 6 million e-readers. IDC is projecting huge growth for media tablets in 2011, forecasting sales of 44.6 million units, while e-reader market will grow much slower with sales of 14.7 million units for the year.