The Apple iPad is the definitive leader in the tablet market, clobbering the competition with 95.5 percent of the 4.4 million tablets sold this past summer, according to a study from Strategy Analytics. Android tablets, by comparison, made up just 2.3 percent of the market. 95.5%: Not even Microsoft Windows in its heyday had that kind of market dominance. Can the competition ever catch up with Apple?
Apple will maintain the lead in the near future, says Neil Mawston, author of the Strategy Analytics study. However, there is growth available for companies--Samsung, LG, HP, and Dell --all of which are entering the market in the next couple of quarters. "In terms of becoming the number one player in hardware, Apple will hang on to that for at least the next year. They have quite a lead already," Mawston explains. "From a software perspective, Android stands a good chance of catching Apple iOS pretty quickly."

The tablet market could shake out much like the smartphone market. Apple's iPhone garners a large portion of sales, but Android-based phones from a variety of vendors make up the majority of handsets. Nevertheless, Apple is still the profit leader in the smartphone space, thanks to its larger margins on each iPhone sold -- and the same is likely to be true of the iPad.
Not all hope is lost for other companies angling to overtake Apple's hardware dominance. "If a global player with wider distribution networks ramps up volume--Samsung, Nokia is an outside bet, maybe Dell, maybe HP--they might be able to compete fairly well," Mawston says. If someone comes along with an improved user interface (i.e. a touchscreen combined with a hard keyboard) at a lower price than the iPad, they might have a chance. (Then again, a third party iPad keyboard-case like the Toccata could help Apple keep its lead).
Mawston believes that Apple ultimately does not care whether other vendors catch up. "Their focus is on value share versus volume share," he says. Moreover, Apple is not going to stop cashing in on the iPad anytime soon.

By Ariel Schwartz and can be reached on Twitter or by email.

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