My colleague Sucharita Mulpuru and I just published a substantial new Forrester report on tablet commerce, Why Tablet Commerce May Soon Trump Mobile Commerce. Basically, it’s huge already: In a recent study of 2,333 tablet owners fielded by Forrester and Bizrate Insights, we found that 47% of tablet owners report shopping and buying for something on their tablet, and an additional 13% say they’ve shopped on their tablet without buying. Even though smartphones far outnumber tablets, retailers surveyed by Forrester report that 21% of their mobile traffic comes from tablets. With tablets forecasted to reach one-third of US adults by 2015, tablet commerce only has one way to go: Up.

These findings suggest there’s a sea shift coming in tablet product strategy, which we see unfolding in three phases:

  • Phase 1 (2010-2011): Apple’s iPad catalyzes a media revolution. There’s no doubt that the iPad is used for more than just media — 20% of iPad owners report creating and editing documents on the device, for example, and the massive catalog of business, education, and other non-media apps attest to the iPad’s versatility. But our data shows that after email, media (playing games, watching videos, viewing photos, reading) are the most popular iPad activities. Apple has wrangled the best content from premium publishers, inspiring News Corp to launch an entirely new company just to produce an iPad app.
  • Phase 2 (Q4 2011-2012): Amazon’s tablet jumpstarts t-commerce. Already, consumers love shopping on tablets, and an Amazon tablet, reported to launch in October, will undoubtedly take tablet commerce to the next level. One-click buying, unbeatable volumes of customer reviews, recommendations for purchases, and Amazon Prime service are some of the innovations Amazon could bring to its tablet, greasing the wheels for more tablet commerce. We predicted in March that Amazon is the most likely iPad disruptor; if they launch at a price point $399 or lower Amazon could easily sell millions of tablets in Q4.
  • Phase 3 (2012?-2013): Microsoft makes a productivity play with Windows 8 tablets. But there’s more to the story. We can’t count out Microsoft, whose next version of Windows will be touch-first, run natively on ARM chips, and have apps, which will bring its operating system up to speed for the post-PC era. Microsoft has not yet announced a release date; even if it launches in 2012 it will have missed several product cycles for touch-first tablets and will be competing from way, way behind. Billed as a tablet “without compromises,” a Windows 8 tablet would be a compelling offering for the 46% of tablet shoppers who say they would prefer a Microsoft OS on a tablet.