March 14, 2012 at 4:14 PM ET
The fever's building for Friday, and it seems hard to imagine it any other way, even as newer iPads are introduced by Apple. But one research firm, IDC, says that by 2015, "the sheer number of vendors shipping low-priced, Android-based tablets means that Google's OS will overtake Apple's in terms of worldwide market share by 2015."
Much as Android phones came to be side-by-side with Apple's iPhone in the consumer market after a few years, Android tablets could do much the same, albeit in three to four years.
In the last quarter of 2011, worldwide, there were 28.2 million tablets shipped, an increase of 155 percent from the last quarter of 2010, according to IDC's ccording to the International Data Corporation (IDC) Worldwide Quarterly Media Tablet and eReader Tracker.
"The market experienced stronger-than-expected growth across many regions and at many price points, leading to a full-year 2011 total of 68.7 million units," IDC said. "Based upon the markets' strong 2011 finish, and the clear demand expected in 2012, IDC has increased its 2012 forecast to 106.1 million units, up from its previous forecast of 87.7 million units."
And, "despite an impressive debut by Amazon, which shipped 4.7 million Kindle Fires into the market, Apple continued to see strong growth in the quarter, shipping 15.4 million units in 4Q11, up from 11.1 million units in 3Q11. That represents a 54.7 percent worldwide market share (down from 61.5 percent in 3Q11)."
While the Android-based Kindle Fires put Amazon in the No. 2 spot, with 16.8 percent of the worldwide market, third-place went to Android-using Samsung, which grew from 5.5 percent in the third quarter of last year to 5.8 percent in the fourth quarter of 2011.
"Amazon's widely-reported entry into the media tablet market with a $199, 7-inch product seemed to raise consumers' awareness of the category worldwide despite the fact that the Fire shipped almost exclusively in the U.S. in the fourth quarter," said Tom Mainelli, research director, Mobile Connected Devices, in an IDC press release.
Tablets of all shapes and sizes sold well, he said, from Apple's "premium-priced iPads (which start at $499) .... to Pandigital's line of Android-based, entry-level tablets (which start at $120). "
IDC said it expects Android to continue to "grow its share of the market at the expense of iOS," Apple's mobile operating system.
"As the sole vendor shipping iOS products, Apple will remain dominant in terms of worldwide vendor unit shipments," Mainelli said. "However, the sheer number of vendors shipping low-priced, Android-based tablets means that Google's OS will overtake Apple's in terms of worldwide market share by 2015. We expect iOS to remain the revenue market share leader through the end of our 2016 forecast period and beyond."
For now, Apple is seeing record pre-orders for the new iPad, said another firm, Canaccord Genuity analysts, with wait times for shipping are estimated at two to three weeks.
Based on the huge interest, Canaccord Genuity raised its iPad sales estimate for 2012 to 65.6 million from 55.9 million, and to 90.6 million from 79.7 million for 2013.