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Report: iPad will grow 250% in 2011 at the expense of PCs

A new report claims tablet sales will more than triple next year, but says Apple will hold on to its dominant position with the iPad, jumping from 14 million units in 2010 to 36 million next year.

The report, cited by John Paczkowski of the Wall Street Journal Digital Daily blog, was prepared by Caris & Co. analyst Robert Cihra.

"We model Apple’s iPad continuing to dominate […] in 2011,” Cihra wrote. "iPad not only launched with phenomenal early uptake but effectively sent all wannabes back to the drawing board, delaying most competitive tablet launches well into CY11.

"Yet we now already look forward to the first iPad 2 refresh in March (i.e., establishing annual cadence for iPads in March, iPhone each June and iPods in Sept). An enormous multi-year opportunity, we continue to view iPads less about the ‘product’ but rather igniting an explosion toward ‘thin-client’ Access computing.”

Android licensees, including Acer, Motorola and possibly HTC, are expected to demo new tablets at CES, but those devices won't be ready until Google finishes Android OS 3.0 Honeycomb, which isn't expected for release until March 2011. RIM is still struggling to put its PlayBook technologies together, while HP prepares its first webOS tablet, expected to be named PalmPad. Microsoft is also believed to be attempting a second shot at launching tablets running Windows 7 at CES.

A large number of new competing mobile platforms will make it easier for Apple's iPad to stand up as an established product, with thousands of apps and mature enterprise support, in a sea of incompatible tablet designs attempting to deliver a wide range of screen sizes and other feature packages.

Tablets to expand at the expense of conventional PCs

Cihra estimates global tablet sales at 54 million in 2011, with Apple taking 67 percent market share with its iPad. That growth, he said, would come at the expense of PCs.

"We see cannibalization from ‘thin-client’ iPads/tablets, particularly vs. netbooks and in multi-PC homes, already growing to 1/7th the size of the overall PC market in 2011 and shaving 5 percentage points off what PC growth might otherwise have been,” Cihra wrote. PC growth, excluding tablets, is expected to drop from 14 percent this year to just 9 percent in 2011.

However, if tablets are defined as a new PC form factor they would turn the situation around, as Cihra presented graphically in the report (below).

Defining the iPad as a PC, which Microsoft's chief executive Steve Ballmer did earlier this year, also more than doubles Apple's market share and establishes the company as the largest mobile PC maker in the US and the third largest worldwide, behind only HP and Acer, and just ahead of Dell.

While the iPad is devastating growth among low end notebooks and netbooks, they haven't had a discernible impact upon Apple's MacBook sales, which have been bolstered by the recent release of the MacBook Air. Apple doesn't sell any PCs on the extreme low end, isolating it from the cannibalization other PC makers are experiencing in the wake of the iPad's release. Instead, the iPad has bolstered Apple's earnings while appearing to only offer a halo effect that supports Mac sales and growth.