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iPad 3 and Kindle Fire Lift Tablet Expectations, Says Forrester

Apple’s iPad may rule the roost but Amazon’s Kindle Fire tablet is helping to expand the US tablet market, according to Forrester Research

Apple’s iPad 3 (or iPad HD?) launch today is stirring up tablet talk mania to a fever pitch, so it is only fitting that Forrester Research is ratcheting up its guidance for tablet unit shipments through 2016.

The researcher said it expects 112.5 million US adults to have a tablet by 2016, up from 82.1 million in its earlier forecast. Part of the 30 million-plus unit bump in Forrester’s estimations can certainly be attributed to the category-defining iPad.

Low-cost boost

The popularity in the US of the Google Android-based Amazon Kindle Fire and Barnes & Noble Nook tablets helped expand the addressable market through price tags less than half that of the iPad, explained Forrester analyst Sarah Rotman Epps in a blog post.

Apple’s cheapest iPad 2, for example, costs $499 (£317) in the US. Amazon launched its Kindle Fire last November for $199 (£127), selling somewhere between four million and six million units. The Nook Tablet, which launched at $249 (£158), also now costs $199.

Why have these Android tablets succeeded while premium Android tablets from Samsung, HTC and Motorola Mobility have seen lacklustre sales? After all, those tablets are priced around the $500 (£318) to $700 (£445) mark of the iPad models, with varying storage.

First, the low cost of the Kindle Fire and Nook Tablet lured users who could not or were reluctant to shell out $500 or more for another media-enabling device.

Second, Epps said her data showed that many consumers did not think they needed tablets they were not sure what they could do with; the premium Android tablets lack the expansive content ecosystem that comes with the iPad, Kindle Fire and Nook Tablet.

“It’s about the services – what you can do with the device, which is why Apple, Amazon and B&N have succeeded in the US where pure hardware plays have failed,” Epps wrote.

Apple lead grows

Apple appears not to be merely maintaining but actually expanding its current lead. US buyers accounted for only 43 percent of the 55 million iPads Apple sold through the fourth quarter.

That leaves plenty of prospective buyers for the company to target with the iPad HD, which will be unveiled in San Francisco. The device is expected to possess a higher-resolution screen, faster processor and could be equipped with a 4G Long-Term Evolution (LTE) radio.

Google meanwhile is expected to combat the iPad train’s momentum with its own tablet, possibly a Nexus-branded slate, later this year. Details on the device are vague, but Android creator Andy Rubin has acknowledged Google must “double down” on Android devices this year to aggressively court consumers.

Forrester’s Epps said Apple should counter the Kindle Fire and Nook Tablet with a low-cost slate of its own. Amazon, in turn, should take Apple head on by licensing its platform to other hardware OEMs.

In another interesting gamble, the analyst argued that Android OEMs Samsung, HTC, Toshiba and Lenovo should consider jettisoning Android tablet development for Windows 8 machines in the US

This prospect almost makes sense when one considers that the Windows 8 Metro user interface looks pretty slick on a tablet, even compared with the latest Android 4.0, or Ice Cream Sandwich, build.

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