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Cheap Android tablets likely to beat iPad within two years

Android has not only triumphed as the No. 1 smart phone platform in the world, but it is very likely to surpass iPad as number one tablet OS, despite the iPad's current 75 percent market share.

The observation comes from Neil Mawston, director at Strategy Analytics, who talked to Bloomberg BusinessWeek. Explaining that Android tablets had gained a 22 percent market share in tablet shipments in the fourth quarter of last year — a quarter where the iPad was on fire and the nearest Android competitor, the Galaxy Tab, was a rather weak offering at best — Mawston said, "If you were to ask me in two years time, will Apple have less than 50 percent of the global tablet market, I think that’s a certainty."

No one is calling the iPad a failure, or even an also-ran. In fact, iPad rankings in 2013 may very well look similar to the NPD phone rankings of the day, which show the iPhone as the No. 1 smartphone, Apple's big bear surrounded by Google's dogs. Android phones outnumber it and outweigh it, but only cumulatively.

The likely factor for Android tablet's quick rise will be price. According to an Appcelerator worldwide survey of 2,200 app developers released last week, price is the "most important factor of success." And by "price" they mean "cheaper than iPad." 

Just like the Android phones that now "sell" for zero dollars up front provided you sign a 2-year carrier contract, so too may arrive the "free" Android tablets, granted to you by carriers that value monthly checks over up-front wallet emptying. Apple is too careful about managing its brand — and its profit margins — to go that route.

One on one, though, the prospects look more grim for any particular Android tablet. "While there are plenty of Android tablets coming to market, unless they are priced significantly lower than iPad, I don't see any making a dent," mobile industry analyst Chetan Sharma told msnbc.com last week.

Android tablet makers "have to give something substantial in pricing or performance to make consumers think twice before buying an iPhone or an iPad," Sharma said. "It's hard to compete with Apple on performance because of their integration of hardware and software, so it's likely to be pricing."

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