Gangbuster Growth for Media Tablets but Apple Still Top Seed . / Credit: Media tablets image via Shutterstock

This year the consumer electronics industry will crank out more than 100 million media tablets worldwide, the analysts at research firm International Data Corp. predict.  IDC increased its 2012 forecast from an estimate of 87.7 million units based on stronger-than-expected growth across many regions and at many price points.

The industry finished last year by shipping 28.2 million tablets in the fourth quarter, a sequential increase from the previous quarter of more than 50 percent and a more than 150 percent increase over the last quarter in 2010.

Though Apple remains the lead vendor in unit sales, producers of low-priced Android-based tablets are nipping at iPad's heels.

[The Best Tablet for Business May Be Yet to Come]

Despite an impressive debut by Amazon, which shipped 4.7 million Kindle Fire devices into the market, Apple continued to see strong growth in the quarter, shipping 15.4 million units in the fourth quarter 2011, up from 11.1 million units the previous quarter. That represents a 54.7 percent worldwide market share (down from 61.5 percent in 3Q11). Amazon's shipment total put the company in second place with 16.8 percent of the worldwide market. Third-place Samsung grew its share from 5.5 percent in the third quarter 2011 to 5.8 percent in the fourth quarter.

Despite shipping more units, including its new Nook Tablet, Barnes & Noble saw its worldwide market share slip to 3.5 percent (down from 4.5 percent). Pandigital rounded out the top five, grabbing 2.5 percent of the market, down from 2.9 percent the previous quarter.

"Amazon's widely reported entry into the media tablet market with a $199 7-inch product seemed to raise consumers' awareness of the category worldwide despite the fact that the Fire shipped almost exclusively in the U.S. in the fourth quarter," said Tom Mainelli, an IDC research director. "As a result, products across the pricing spectrum sold well, including everything from Apple's premium-priced iPads (which start at $499) to Pandigital's line of Android-based, entry-level tablets (which start at $120). The success of market leader Apple was particularly noteworthy, as the company's shipment total for the quarter represents an increase of 110.5 percent from the fourth quarter 2010."

As predicted, Android made some strong gains in the last quarter 2011, thanks in large part to the success of the Amazon Kindle Fire, which runs a custom version of Google's Android operating system. Nonetheless, Mainelli said, the sheer number of vendors shipping low-priced, Android-based tablets means that Google's OS will overtake Apple's  in terms of worldwide market share by units shipped by  2015. But IDC forecasts that iOS will remain the revenue market share leader through 2016 and beyond.

Reach BusinessNewsDaily senior writer Ned Smith at nsmith@techmedianetwork.com. Follow him on Twitter @nedbsmith.