In 2011, sales will more than double to 14.4 million units, and nearly triple in 2012 to 20.1 million units, according to iSuppli's forecast, released Friday.
This year, Apple fans attracted to the device's design and unique touchscreen-based user interface are expected to drive sales, the researcher said. Over the next two years, sales will be driven by a range of factors, including applications, improved functionality, and declining prices.
The research firm said its sales forecast is conservative. Factors that could boost sales even higher include swift feature enhancements and the early addition of Flash support. Flash is a nearly ubiquitous Web technology developed by Adobe for playing multimedia. The iPad, like Apple's iPhone, doesn't support Flash.
Sales of the iPad are expected to do more than just line Apple's pockets. The hype and predictions surrounding the tablet computer are expected to temper consumers' enthusiasm over netbooks. The mini-laptops were the fastest growing PC category last year.
Research firm IDC told BusinessWeek that netbook sales slowed significantly in the first quarter of this year. Compared to the 872% rise in the first quarter of 2009, netbook sales from January through March are expected to grow by only 33.6% year over year.
Indeed, the Website DigiTimes reported April 1 that Hewlett-Packard and Dell have significantly reduced spending on building netbooks. Quoting sources from Asian laptop makers, DigiTimes said HP is considering stopping production of netbooks with 10-inch screens in order to focus on slightly larger laptops with full-size keyboards and higher profit margins.
iSuppli said Apple will eventually face competitors from around the globe, as manufacturers hit the market with their own tablet PCs. Many of those devices are expected to have more capabilities that the early iPads.
However, being first out of the gate gives Apple a distinct advantage. "Key to continuing success will be how quickly Apple responds to issues as they arise and whether the company can align suppliers to meet demand needs," iSuppli analyst Rhoda Alexander said in a statement.
Apple released the iPad on April 3rd.