Android-based tablets will be 39 percent of the market in 2015.

Google tablets expected to challenge iPad

Android-based tablets will make up 39 percent of the market in 2015, Gartner predicts.

Apple’s iPad will maintain tablet supremacy for the next four years, but higher education soon could see an influx of tablets that operate with Google’s operating system (OS) during the same period, according to an April 11 report from IT research company Gartner.

After changing the tablet market the way the Apple iPhone “reinvented” the smart-phone market, the iPad and its iOS—Apple’s operating system—account for almost 70 percent of media tablets, while Android-based tablets account for 20 percent of the market, according to Gartner.

Google’s Android OS, however, will see steady growth over the next four years. By 2015, Google will own 39 percent of the tablet market, compared to the iPad’s 47 percent, Gartner predicts.

Growth of the Android OS will be “capped,” according to Gartner, because Google officials decided not to open its OS—known as Honeycomb—to third parties, meaning the price of Android tablets will decline more slowly than the iPad.

More than 47 million iPads will be sold in 2011, a number that will skyrocket to 138 million in 2015, according to the report. Nearly 14 million Android-based tablets will hit the market this year. That figure is expected to jump to 113 million.

Carolina Milanesi, Gartner’s research vice president, said iPad competitors are focusing on hardware and “making the same mistake that was made in the first response wave to the iPhone, as they are prioritizing hardware features over applications, services, and overall user experience.”

She added: “Tablets will be much more dependent on the latter than smart phones have been, and the sooner vendors realize that, the better chance they have to compete head-to-head with Apple.”

Gartner analysts predicted that customers would gravitate to tablets made by the same companies as their smart phones. On college campuses, where students with web-enabled phones favor the iPhone, this could give Apple an advantage.

Milanesi said customers want their tablets and phones operating on the same OS so they can “share applications across devices, as well as [have] the sense of familiarity the user interfaces will bring.”

Allegiance to a popular OS could be trouble for tablets that use the Web OS or MeeGo, because neither system has a ubiquitous smart phone that can attract customers to its tablet, according to the report.

Jean Coppola, associate professor of computer science and information systems at Pace University in New York City, said allegiance to operating systems is commonplace in higher education, with most students taking the Apple side of the Apple-Google smart phone and tablet battle.

“I do see a lot of brand loyalty out there,” she said. “And [Google and Apple] are both very strong companies constantly coming out with new things … so it’ll be an exciting next few years with this kind of competition.”

Coppola said the rising cost of college textbooks—about $1,000 annually, according to industry estimates—could drive students to tablets, especially if cheap or free digital textbooks can be downloaded on the mobile device.

“Students aren’t going to go anywhere without their tablet in the higher-education setting,” she said, adding that she expects popular learning management systems to be widely available on tablet operating systems. “Anything they need will be right there for them, and instant gratification is something students are always looking for.”

Tablet experts said the convenience of eBooks—and the subsequent elimination of the weighty backpack—would attract more students to tablets in coming years.

“With all the materials students need to bring to class and the long distances some have to trek if they live off campus, tablets are a sensible addition to a college student’s backpack,” wrote Gianna Walton, a blogger for BostInnovation, a website that tracks educational technology, among other topics.

Walton said tablet usage would grow in higher education because “laptops are bulky, heavy, and just more of a nuisance for students to carry. Unless they’re taking a computer science class, students rarely need their laptops for activities that can’t be performed on both mediums; why not bring the tool that’s easiest to carry?”

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