Next year, sales of tablets will soar to 54.8 million units, Gartner predicted Friday. In 2012 and 2013, sales will increase to 103.4 million and 154.2 million, respectively.
Such big growth numbers mean tablets will snatch sales from other product categories, particularly electronic readers, gaming devices, and media players. However, the greatest sales impact will be felt in the market for netbooks, the inexpensive mini-laptops that were the fastest growing computer category during last year's economic recession.
"Mini-notebooks will suffer from the strongest cannibalization threat as media tablet average selling prices drop below $300 over the next 2 years," Gartner researcher Carolina Milanesi said in a statement.
Gartner is not the first to predict that tablets will cannibalize netbook sales. In June, Forrester Research predicted that tablet computers will outsell netbooks in two years in the United States.
Gartner believes that sales of low-end mainstream laptops will only marginally suffer from tablet sales, while "very limited cannibalization" will occur on smartphones. Among the latter devices, tablets with screen sizes of seven inches could slow sales of high-end smartphones, since owners of such tablets could opt to buy a lower-priced mobile phone.
The United States will account for 61% of tablet sales this year, Gartner says. But as the devices increase availability in more markets, that percentage will fall to 43% in 2014. Besides the iPad, tablets that have, or will, hit the market this year include offerings from Hewlett-Packard, Dell, Samsung, and others.
This year, 55% of tablets sold will have cellular and Wi-Fi connections, with that number rising to 80% in four years, Gartner says.
Within businesses, Gartner expects tablets in the immediate future to act mainly as a companion device to laptops, where employees use the lighter, more portable tablets on the road for fast access to e-mail, calendaring, Web applications, and information sources. Tablets will also be used to show PowerPoint presentations.
However, Gartner expects very few employers to buy tablets for workers, since many companies may already be paying for smartphones and laptops. Employees are expected initially to buy most tablets used in business, using the devices for work and entertainment.
Gartner expects wireless service providers to eventually contribute to tablet adoption by subsidizing the devices, much like they do smartphones, in return for multi-year service contracts.