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Report: Tablet buyers will rapidly upgrade, lion's share will be iPads

Tablet sales are expected to more than double this year, thanks in large part to buyers rapidly upgrading to the latest models in the same way iPod users did. And most tablet buyers will be choosing Apple's iPad.

A report by Forrester Research analyst Sarah Rotman Epps predicts tablet sales will "grow as fast as MP3 players," more than doubling to 24 million this year and reaching 44 million by 2015.

"Of those sales, the lion's share will be iPads, and despite many would-be competitors that will be released at CES, we see Apple commanding the vast majority of the tablet market through 2012," Epps wrote.

Tablet users will increase even faster, hitting 82.1 million by 2015, the report projects. In explaining this predicted phenomenon, the report states that "one major assumption that changed in our model is the replacement rate, which we think will be closer to that of MP3 players or iPhones than to that of PCs."

The report states that "tablets are proving themselves to be 'lifestyle devices' at home and at work, and as such we think consumers will upgrade to newer models more rapidly than they would a more utilitarian device like a PC."

The report added, "we think a significant number of first-generation iPad buyers will buy iPad 2 when it comes out this year — many first-gen iPads will end up entertaining the kids in the back of the car while Mom and Dad get the shiny new (likely Facetime-compatible) model."

If current buyers are really going to be snatching up every new model (much like many early iPod and iPhone adopters did), it would seem like the number of tablet buyers should be closer to the number of tablets being sold, not twice as much as modeled by Forrester.

"As for Android tablets," the report notes, "Research In Motion's BlackBerry PlayBook, Microsoft's Windows-based tablets, and tablets that run on HP's and Nokia's platforms, they'll take a backseat to Apple, but in a market this big, there's room for more than one player. By 2015, 82 million US consumers — one-third of US online consumers — will be using a tablet, and not all of them will be iPads."

"Consumers didn't ask for tablets"

Interestingly, the same analyst at Forrester predicted last summer that tablet computers would cannibalize netbooks and overtake them in sales by 2012, but that the total number of tablets would only reach 3.5 million by the end of 2010.

By the time of that report, Apple had already sold 2 million iPads, suggesting that Forrester believed the iPad to be a flash in the pan that would quickly fizzle out.

"Consumers didn't ask for tablets," Epps wrote in her summary last June. "In fact, Forrester's data shows that the top features consumers say they want in a PC are a complete mismatch with the features of the iPad."

Forrester now reports that 10.3 million tablets have sold in 2010, despite the fact that Apple has already reported sales of more than 7 million though September, and that analysts expect the company to have sold between 5 to 7.5 million more in the winter quarter. Other manufacturers have also sold some tablets.

Forrester analyst James McQuivey previously predicted through 2006 and 2007 that Apple's iTunes would fail as video content moved to an ad supported model.