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Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, whose recent statements that "job one" at the software giant, is to port Windows 7 to slate computers, has a new report to reaffirm just how important that market is likely to become over the next four years.
In fact, the report from researcher Gartner said that in 2010 alone, 19.5 million "media tablets" will be sold to end users. Sales will be led, of course, by Apple's (NASDAQ: AAPL) iPad, which had sold 3.27 million units by the end of Apple's third fiscal quarter on June 26, according to the company.
Further, Gartner expects sales to jump 181 percent next year to 54.8 million units as momentum for tables picks up steam. Down the road, as sales really ramp up, sales are projected to hit 208 million in 2014.
Gartner defines media tablets as "slate devices that support touch and run a lightweight OS such as iOS, Android, WebOS or Meego," the firm said in a statement. "Examples of media tablets are the Apple iPad, Samsung Galaxy Tab and the Cisco Cius," Gartner continued. They can range from seven-inch screen sizes up to around 10 inches.
Don't expect businesses to ante up right away, though.
"The majority of knowledge workers cannot use media tablets to replace their notebooks," Gartner noted. "Since these workers usually also have smartphones, media tablets become their third device. Most organizations will not buy that third device."
Instead, employees are likely to buy media tablets themselves and take them to work.
"Because of the convenience factor for travel and an 'instant on' for quick look-up functions, many users are paying for the media tablets with their own money to use both for work and pleasure," Gartner said.
But that doesn't imply that media tablets won't be useful in the workplace.
"In the enterprise space, for the immediate future, the main use of media tablets is as a notebook companion or as a secondary device to take on the road or use for fast access to email, calendaring, interrogating Web applications and information sources, and showing PowerPoint presentations."
Amid all the exuberance surrounding Apple's iPad, one obvious question is whether enterprises -- and how many of them -- will be running a Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) operating system in that same time frame. Although CEO Ballmer has said the company will have Windows 7-based slates in the marketplace for sale before Christmas, Microsoft still has not yet revealed a date when they will be available.