Kindle Fire is heating up the slate market...
Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos unveiling the Kindle Fire tablet earlier this yearPhoto: Sarah Tew/CNET
The iPad will finally face serious competition next year: the contender to Apple's tablet throne will be Amazon, according to analysts.
Research company IDC reckons Amazon's Kindle Fire tablet will grab nearly 20 per cent of the tablet market in 2012, shipping more than 16 million units.
While Apple will still dominate the tablet space with more than 60 per cent of the market - and is becoming "increasingly relevant" to enterprises, IDC said - Google's Android platform will get a "significant boost" in the tablet arena thanks to the Fire which will singlehandedly own two-thirds of the Android tablet market.
Not yet launched in the UK, the Kindle Fire is a seven-inch tablet with a $199 price-tag. The slate is built on a version of Android that has been heavily customised by Amazon to facilitate media consumption - focusing on ebooks, digital magazines and newspapers, films and music.
IDC predicts Amazon will launch larger sized models of the Kindle Fire, helping it to grab second place in the tablet space next year. The analyst said the impact of media tablets will continue to "grow dramatically" in 2012 - with unit shipments predicted to exceed 80 million globally.
IDC also forecast 2012 as a "do-or-die" year for BlackBerry-maker RIM, as users assess its forthcoming unified smartphone and tablet OS. RIM's own seven-inch tablet - the PlayBook - has failed to sell well. Last week the company announced it would write down the value of the PlayBook by $360m in the third quarter, owing to weak demand and excess inventory.
IDC added that 2012 could also be a make or break year for Microsoft tablets as it rolls out Windows 8: as its unified tablet and PC operating system. Windows 8's Metro tile-based interface closely resembles Microsoft's smartphone OS, Windows Phone, but that's as far as the integration goes for now. Windows 8 is due to launch in beta in February. IDC describes Microsoft's strategy as "a giant bet with significant risk".
The analyst house said the market will also be eyeing HP - to watch how recently appointed CEO Meg Whitman shapes her strategy for tablets. Back in August, former CEO Leo Apotheker killed off HP's TouchPad tablet, which ran on the WebOS operating system that HP acquired when it bought Palm. The company had also used WebOS to power smartphones such as the HP Pre 3.
IDC said it's imperative for HP to develop a strong position in tablets and smartphones.