Gartner said Friday that it expects media tablet sales to reach 19.5 million units this year and to nearly triple in 2011, in one of the most aggressive market forecasts published so far. A blog on the Wall Street Journal site reported that Gartner analyst Carolina Milanesi believed tablet computers such as Apple’s iPad, Samsung’s Galaxy Tab and Cisco’s Cius will cannibalize other portable devices such as e-readers, gaming devices, and media players. Consumers are “tech–savvy, they want the fashion, and the tablet isn’t as complicated as the PC,” adding that consumers also like that tablets are always-on and don’t need to be rebooted.

In the office, Ms. Milanesi believes tablets will replace mini-notebooks and function as a secondary device to use on the road or for fast access to email, calendar, Web applications and presentations. “Mini-notebooks will suffer from the strongest cannibalization threat as media tablet average selling prices (ASPs) drop below $300 over the next two years,” she added. Since the immediate appeal of the tablet computer to corporate users is for fast access to e-mail, calendars, documents and Web applications, most workers will not yet be able to replace their laptops with tablets. That means many will now carry three devices, including their smart phones. Eventually, Gartner predicts, the devices will become family-focused and appeal more to consumers.

In an interesting metaphor Milanesi describes how tablets are more like smart phones than laptop computers. "The usage model is closer to what consumers do with a smart phone while on the go than what they do on a PC when they are at their desk. It is about running applications, playing games, watching video content, reading books and magazines, surfing the Web, updating your status on your social network of choice and checking e-mail," Milanesi said.

The Wall Street Journal expects Apple, which dominates the tablet market, to sell about 11 million iPads this year. But Gartner has even more aggressive sales forecasts for the next few years – 54.8 million units in 2011, 103.4 million in 2012 and 154.2 million in 2013.

“Some will look at our numbers and think that we are being way too optimistic; some will think we are right out crazy; mini-notebook vendors will hope we are wrong; and Verizon will grin knowing it has just secured the iPad,” said Milanesi. Gartner’s forecast assumes that over 80% of tablet sales this year will come from the iPad.

"Price might be an inhibitor in the early days, but this will soon decrease as competition will get fiercer," Milanesi said. "The market will soon be flooded by a whole bunch of different models that will offer a variety of operating systems, feature sets, price points and screen sizes. We believe that mobile operators will shift their marketing and subsidy from netbooks to media tablets in an attempt to sell more mobile broadband subscriptions."

Are you going shopping for a tablet this holiday season? For me, I am waiting for the 2.01 version.

Howard Fenton is a Senior Consultant at NAPL. Howie advises commercial printers, in-plants, and manufacturers on workflow management, operations, digital services, and customer research.