It might seem a long time, but the Media Tablet marketplace did not exist until April this year. It soon became obvious that Apple's iPad had catalyzed yet another major computing trend – by Computex, almost every device manufacturer in the world had a tablet coming. Last month, Gartner Group predicted the 20 million sales expected in 2010 will grow an order of magnitude over the next four years. Now Gartner has gone a step further. “It is not usually the role of the CEO to get directly involved in specific technology device decisions, but Apple's iPad is an exception,” says the report. “It is more than just the latest consumer gadget; and CEOs and business leaders should initiate a dialogue with their CIOs about it if they have not already done so.”

Media tablets are slate devices that support touch and run a lightweight OS such as iOS, Android, WebOS or Meego. Apple’s iPad is a media tablet and Samsung’s recently-released Galaxy Tab and the Cisco Cius are other examples.

Gartner’s forecasting and market share report was prepared by Research VP Carolina Milanesi who made some interesting observations on the report in the Gartner Blog.

Why is Gartner so optimistic about this market? “Because media tablets are not mini-notebooks and they are certainly not Tablet PCs. If you think this market will be as small as the mini-notebook market you are looking at media tablets like younger siblings of a PC rather than older siblings of smartphones,” wrote Milanesi. “Media tablets have much more in common with a smartphone than a PC. The usage model is closer to what consumers do with a smartphone 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 email.

"If you can do all of this without having to take five minutes to boot up, without having to look for a power outlet after a couple of hours cause battery life is nice and long and with a user interface that allows you to easily get to what you need why would you not buy a media tablet? Price might be an inhibitor in the early days but this will soon decrease as competition will get fiercer. 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. While we expect 7-inch tablets to be popular in the short term due to the limitations of Android and because they are closer to smartphones, we expect that in the long run 10-inch tablets will be more successful as they offer a superior experience."

The punchline though, is the most convincing argument yet. “If you are still worried about the forecast think that in 2014 we forecast that close to 500 million phones with an ASP higher than $300 will be sold around the world. By then many tablets would have fallen considerably below that ASP.”

A detailed statistical outlook for media tablets is available in the Gartner report Forecast: Connected Mobile Consumer Electronics, Worldwide, 2008-2014.