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Tablet power is in the platform

Analyst James McQuivey calls Apple's iPad an "unprecedented example of platform power," a conspiracy among devices makers, software and service providers, and consumers.

Forrester Research analyst James McQuivey
Dan Farber/CNET

NEW YORK--Tablets are on track to fundamentally change the computing landscape.

The handheld devices of various shapes and sizes will be in the hands of 34 percent of the U.S. population by 2016, predicts James McQuivey, principal analyst at Forrester Research.

"iPad will have the majority unless Apple takes its eye off the ball," he said, adding that no other consumer product has ever reached such a broad audience so fast.

Speaking here at PaidContent2012, McQuivey said part of the allure of tablets is that they are used for the majority of tasks they offer, ranging from browsing the Web and handling e-mail to reading books and watching videos. Until the tablet came along, he said, there hadn't been a single device in history in which 8 of its top 10 features were used by the majority of its owners.

McQuivey attributed Apple's success -- about 70 million iPads sold to date -- to a platform strategy. "A platform promise is a three-way conspiracy between devices makers, software and service providers, and consumers," he said. The Retina Display of the iPad "matters not a whit if not connected to [the] platform promise of iTunes and iOS," he said. "The iPad is an unprecedented example of platform power and Apple wielding it."

Google's Android platform comes in second but its "conspiracy" of device makers, software, apps, and services hasn't been able to give the iPad much competition so far beyond Amazon's Kindle Fire in the lower price range.

While content is what people engage with on tablet and other devices, McQuivey said that platform is the "throne."

"Content will always be king, but the platform is now the new throne on which the content reigns," McQuivey said. "The only tablet that can compete with Apple will have to have a platform promise."

McQuivey also offered his take on the battle for the living room. He cited Microsoft's Kinect for the Xbox 360 as a strong competitor to Apple and Google in the living room. An estimated 22 million of the devices have been sold so far.

In his blog, McQuivey wrote recently: "The fight over the TV is really a fight over the next massive consumer platform that is coming up for grabs. Of platforms there are few: Google owns search, Amazon owns digital retail, Facebook owns social, and Apple owns consumer devices. Microsoft owns, well, nothing at the moment, despite its handsome revenue stream from Windows and Office.

"That could change soon. Microsoft's Xbox 360 is already the most-watched Net-connected TV device in the U.S. and soon, the world. With more than 70 million consoles in households worldwide -- as many as half of them connected to the Internet, depending on the country -- Microsoft can rapidly drive new video services into tens of millions of households."