San Francisco - Apple's new iPad breaks some new ground in the tablet industry, becoming the first tablet with 2048x1536 resolution and speak-to-type voice dictation.
In other ways, the new iPad played catch-up with select competitors by adding such features as 4G LTE and 1080p video capture.
However you assess the product's advances, many analysts expect the device will help Apple maintain or possibly increase tablet share - at least through this year -- despite rising competition from lower priced Android alternatives from Amazon and Barnes & Noble, a growing selection of Android 4.0-based tablets, and the expected launch late this year of Microsoft 8-based tablets, which will share their OS with PCs and laptops.
Analysts also expect Apple to gain share by keeping the 16GB iPad2 in the line and dropping its price by $100 to $399 for the Wi-Fi model and to $529 for the 3G-equipped versions for Verizon and AT&T.
U.K.-based IMS Research found that Apple dominated the world tablet PC market with a 62 percent share in 2011, and despite growing competition, IMS forecasts Apple to boost its share to 70 percent in 2012, thanks to the new iPad.
IMS PC analyst Gerry Xu points to the "large customer base loyal to Apple products that have been waiting for the latest tablet." Many iPad 1 owners "are also expected to upgrade to the latest release," he added. In addition to consumer demand, he also forecasts Apple share gains resulting from sales into the enterprise and education markets.
IMS forecasts that about 70 million iPads will be shipped in 2012, which would represent 71 percent year-over-year growth.
To date, there is "no significant threat to the iPad's continued dominance in the tablet market," he said. "Only modest growth is forecast for non-iPad tablets," and of these, Amazon's Kindle Fire and several Win8 tablets, due in late 2012, are forecast to be most successful.
IMS forecasts that Android tablet share will fall from 35 percent in 2011 to 26 percent in 2012 because "these tablets have struggled to compete with the user experience offered by the iPad."
For his part, Ovum principal analyst Adam Leach expects Apple to "retain its market leading position through 2012" because "it will take time for Android 4.0 and Windows 8 based products to come to market."
Longer term, the situation is different.
"High on the list of challengers will be Google and Microsoft, both companies hoping to break into the growing tablet market by providing hardware manufacturers with the software platforms and developer ecosystems that will allow them to compete directly with Apple's iOS," he said. Google has finally bridged the smartphone and tablet divide with Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich), offering developers a unified platform for the two types of device. This should increase the number of tablet-optimized applications, which were notably absent from Android 3.0 (Honeycomb)."
In addition, Leach said, "Microsoft is set to launch Windows 8 this year, targeting tablet devices with its Metro UI and built specifically for ARM-based chipsets. Microsoft's introduction of Windows 8 on ARM and its shift away from Intel for tablets will drastically increase the company's ability to compete on price point and user experience with Apple."