Gartner has released a new worldwide tablet sales forecast, covering 2012 through 2016. But... Can you really trust a Gartner forecast for a bunch of products that don't exist (example: Windows 8 tablets) and a product family whose future is at risk (example: RIM QNX). Here's the tablet spin from The VAR Guy.

According to Gartner, worldwide tablet sales will grow from 119 million units in 2012 to 369 million units in 2016. Gartner also offers tablet market share predictions for Apple iOS (the iPad operating system), Google Android, Microsoft and QNX during the forecast period.

But are the numbers reliable educated guesses -- or pure fiction? Consider this history lesson: Anybody else remember when Gartner predicted netbook sales would skyrocket from 5.2 million units in 2008 to 50 million netbooks by 2012. But by June 2011, Netbook sales had crashed about 40 percent because users found them underpowered and millions of customers opted instead for tablets.

The upshot: Gartner completely misread the netbook market and failed to spot a disruptive technology -- tablets -- that would reshape the market.

Fast forward to the present. Will Gartner's new tablet forecast hold true from 2012 through 2016? Hmmm... By 2016, Gartner predicts:
  • Apple iOS will ship 169.6 million units annually.
  • Android tablets will ship 137.6 million units annually, but that's essentially a worthless prediction without knowing which PC and mobile vendors will actually have successful Android tablets. Any educated guesses here?
  • Windows 8 tablets will ship 43.6 million units annually, but here again it's impossible to say which hardware companies will have truly successful Windows 8 tablets. Again, any educated guesses here?
  • QNX tablets will ship 17.8 million units annually, but that forecast is worthless considering QNX owner RIM (Research In Motion) is in a freefall and considering strategic options for the company.
The bottom line from The VAR Guy: In some ways, Gartner is telling us what we already know -- Apple iOS is dominating and Google Android is promising for tablets, while Windows 8 will need to be a rock-solid offering to gain tablet momentum.

It's a pretty safe bet that the tablet market will continue to grow. VAR and MSPs will need to develop mobile device management strategies. But predicting 2016 market share figures for each tablet operating system seems like a stretch to The vAR Guy.

Skeptical? Check back with The VAR Guy in 2016 to see how well those Gartner predictions worked out.