But Google's Android gaining ground, says Gartner...
Apple and its iPad dominate the tablet market now - and will still be the dominant player in five years' time, analyst house Gartner is predicting.
Despite mounting competition from other operating systems, including Google's Android OS and RIM's QNX tablet OS - with RIM's first tablet, the BlackBerry PlayBook, due to launch in the US later this month - Apple's iOS will grab more than half the market share for media tablets in the next three years, according to Gartner.
The analyst defines a media tablet as a touchscreen device with a screen size larger than five inches, predominantly designed for consuming media, and running a lightweight OS.
Gartner said iOS accounted for 83.9 per cent of the media tablet market last year and forecasts Apple's OS will take two-thirds, 68.7 per cent, of the market this year, dropping slightly to 63.2 per cent in 2012 and then just under half, 47.1 per cent, in 2015.
The continuing success of iOS is down to the software-and-services ecosystem Apple has built up to support it, said Gartner, noting that many of Apple's tablet rivals are mistakenly prioritising hardware features over apps, services and the overall user experience - yet on tablets, content is king.
Carolina Milanesi, research VP at Gartner, said tablets will be much more dependent on apps, services and the overall user experience than smartphones have been. "The sooner vendors realise that the better chance they have to compete head to head with Apple," she said in a statement.
"Smartphone users will want to buy a tablet that runs the same operating system as their smartphone," she added. "This is so they can share applications across devices as well as for the sense of familiarity the user interfaces will bring."
Over the same period, Gartner reckons Android will increase its share of the tablet market. Android accounted for 14.2 per cent of the market last year, according to Gartner, and it predicts this share will rise to a fifth, 19.9 per cent, this year, more than a fifth, 24.4 per cent, in 2012 and more than a third, 38.6 per cent, by 2015.
However, the analyst believes Google's strategy towards open-sourcing its tablet-optimised version of its Android OS - Honeycomb - may...
...slow the price decline of Android tablets and ultimately cap its market share.
Roberta Cozza, principal analyst at Gartner, said the new licensing model Google has introduced with Honeycomb enables Google to retain more control, allowing only optimal tablet implementations that don't compromise quality of experience. "This might mean that prices will drop at a slower pace than we have seen in the smartphone market," she said in a statement.
Gartner's stats do not take into account how Google's as-yet unreleased Chrome OS might affect the market - a tablet version of which is reportedly in the pipeline.
Meanwhile, RIM's QNX tablet OS will be in third place in 2015, with Gartner predicting the BlackBerry maker will gain 5.6 per cent of the market this year, rising to 10 per cent in 2015. The analyst said it will take RIM "time and significant effort" to attract developers and create a "compelling ecosystem" of apps and services for QNX to position itself as a viable alternative to iOS or Android.
"This will limit RIM's market share growth over the forecast period," said Milanesi in a statement, predicting that the PlayBook will mainly be of interest to organisations - "because they either already have RIM's infrastructure deployed or have stringent security requirements".
Other mobile OS makers tracked by Gartner include HP's webOS - which the analyst reckons will grab four per cent of the tablet market this year, dropping to three per cent by 2015 - and the Intel-backed MeeGo OS, set to gain just one per cent of the market in five years' time.
Mobile maker Nokia deprioritised MeeGo when it opted to sign up to Microsoft's Windows Phone 7 (WP7) mobile operating system earlier this year, although Nokia still plans to bring out one MeeGo device this year.
While Microsoft's desktop OS, Windows, has been put onto some tablets, the company's intentions in the media tablet market remain unclear - with its rebooted smartphone OS, WP7, not currently proposed for tablets.