The Tablet OS Wars: There Will Be Blood

In terms of tablet market share, Android tablets will be running a close second to the iPad within two years, according to Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munster.

While the iPad will have 44 percent of the market, Android tablets will have 39 percent, Munster reportedly predicted.

More Android tablets will be launched in 2011, including one from Motorola that will possibly run an upcoming version of the Google operating system — Android 3.0.

Tablets running other operating systems will also hit the market, and perhaps the only thing anyone’s really sure of is that change will remain the hallmark of this segment.

It’s All in the Numbers

Though tablets like the Samsung Galaxy Tab already run the mobile OS, Android tablets will really take off in 2011, when they will begin running Android 3.0, code-named “Honeycomb,” according to Munster.

A Motorola tablet prototype running Android 3.0 received a great deal of attention when it was demonstrated by Andy Rubin, vice president of engineering at Google, earlier this month. That was one of several factors that Munster considers a good omen for Android’s future next year. Other factors include Motorola’s promise to deliver 7- and 10-inch tablets, and Samsung’s promise to offer a 10-inch Galaxy Tab tablet, all next year.

Apple will end up 2011 with 53 percent of the market and Android with nearly 33 percent, Munster forecast.

Tablets running Windows 7 and HP’s webOS operating systems as well as Research In Motion PlayBooks will make up the bulk of the remaining market, Munster said.

However Jeff Orr, a principal analyst at ABI Research, disputes Munster’s figures. “That statement that 39 percent of tablets will run Android is a little aggressive,” Orr told LinuxInsider. “I think it’s going to be more like 25 percent.”

Other players will include tablets running HP’s webOS, Google’s Chrome OS, Windows and Meego, which is being jointly offered by Nokia and Intel, Orr said.

“We can’t forget Windows 7, and I don’t think Microsoft is just going to abandon this potentially huge market,” Orr pointed out. “And there’s still a chance that Windows CE may come back in.”

Swimming With the Tablet Sharks

Scads of tablets are expected to come down the pipeline in 2011.

“It’s the making of a market,” Orr said. “Think of it as a wave building on the ocean. The risk is, does that wave become so massive that it comes crashing down on you?”

December alone saw at least seven Android tablets released in the United States, according to Andro Tablets. More than 50 tablet devices will hit the streets before the end of this year, ABI Research’s Orr said.

Apple is not likely to be crushed by the wave because “it has a heritage of staying ahead of the curve” and there are rumors that the next-generation iPad may be unveiled as early as January, Orr stated.

NEC will reportedly unveil a dual-screen Android tablet at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) 2011 in January.

Meanwhile, Motorola has placed a teaser ad on YouTube about a tablet it will apparently debut at the Consumer Electronics Show in January 2011.

“We are working on both a 7- and a 10-inch Android tablet and intend to introduce a tablet in the first half of 2011,” Motorola spokesperson Danielle McNally told LinuxInsider. “We want to make sure that any tablet we deliver is compelling and competitive in the marketplace, and we will only deliver a tablet when that occurs,” she added.

Acer, HTC and Asus have all announced they’ll offer Android tablets in 2011. Acer has already announced a 7-inch and a 10.1-inch tablets. However, Asus says it will first bring out Windows 7 tablets before proceeding to Android devices.

Jumping the Gun, or On the Hop?

Although it’s clear many device makers are eager to put Android on their tablets, the version of Android currently in consumers’ hands is optimized for a different type of device: smartphones.

“I definitely see media tablets being in more of a computing function than a communication function, gaining graphics and processing higher-definition video content,” ABI Research’s Orr remarked.

“There have been many tablets on non-tablet versions of Android,” Al Hilwa, a program director at IDC, told LinuxInsider. “The fact that Samsung, Dell and others are willing to jump the gun before the code properly supports tablets is clearly a sign of the eagerness to cash in on the tablet phenomenon.”

The most successful Android tablets “will probably not come until Gingerbread [Android 2.3] and beyond,” Hilwa said.

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