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IDC Claims “very real possibility” That Tablets Like iPad “will be the next netbook”

I sometimes forget that market research firms are made up of individuals with their own opinion on things.

That was driven home to me at the Directions 2011 conference in San Jose today.

If I’d just stayed til lunch, I would’ve left with thinking that IDC analysts all believe that the post-PC, mobile era is upon us.

But listening to Tom Mainelli speak this afternoon, I was painted a basically 180 degree-opposite picture.

While Mainelli abides by the IDC forecast that smartphones and tablets will permanently overtake PCs this year (500 million of the former versus 380 million PCs), he insists that PCs aren’t going the way of the Stegosaur.

“We hear about this every few years,” said Tom Mainelli, an analyst at IDC, said in his presentation entitled appropriately ‘The Multi-Device World’. “As a PC guy, it sometimes gets a little frustrating.”

“There’s going to be room for multiple devices,” he said. Moreover, “the PC remains the best deal among all of the devices available today.”

Sure,  IDC expects 44 million media tablets (which doesn’t include the small number of tablets running Windows) to ship this year, up to about 70 million in 2012, 90+ million in 2013, and 111 million in 2014.

(Click here to see 15+ other forecasts of the tablet market.)

At the same time, tablets remain no sure thing, says Mainelli. For one, user surveys show that tablets are not cannibalizing any other devices than netbooks.

An IDC survey from last December of those who had owned an iPad for more than 3 months found that 59% considered it a secondary device. Only 27% considered the iPad an outright replacement, while only 14% said buying an iPad delayed another purchase.

Also, companies aren’t yet buying tablets for employees en masse (78% do not). And due to failure to roll out device management software and write group polices, they are hesitant about letting employees bring their tablets in for work.

Only a small percentage of tablet-owning workers are allowed to access the corporate network (35%), access corporate e-mail (17%) or run business apps (18%).

“There is a very real possibility that media tablets will be the next netbook,” he said.

My take: I agree that tablets could experience a backlash that causes the hype bubble to burst. That would be result of too many similar, rushed-to-market Android tablets on the market. However, I think the chance of tablet sales actually halting their growth as quickly as netbooks did is basically nil.

I have to admit that I was surprised to hear that PCs will still total about 500 million in 2014, or nearly 5x media tablets. Smartphone shipments will total nearly 820 million by 2014.

“PCs and smartphones will remain devices we must have; netbooks and tablets are nice-to-haves,” Mainelli said.

PCs will need to evolve, of course, to stay successful. Apple and HP are good role models for other PC makers, he says. He likes Apple’s vertically-integrated model including its profitable App Store, and HP’s plan to install two operating systems (Windows and WebOS) on its hardware. In other vendors’ cases, they could look to install Android or Google Chrome as their secondary mobile OS.

He argues PC makers should create very customized experiences – much deeper than the UI overlays on top of Windows they have done in the past – including buying up cloud data synchronization vendors in order to roll out better-than-MobileMe services.