Report: Tablet market to belong to iOS, Android through 2017

Thanks to content and applications, iOS (s aapl) and Android (s goog) will remain at the top of the tablet heap until at least 2017, a new report from market research firm In-Stat claimed on Monday. Together, Apple’s iPad and Google Android tablet devices will account for more than 90 percent of market share even six years from now, with only Windows (s msft) able to offer even the faintest hope as a third platform, In-Stat said.

The reason Apple devices and those using Google’s mobile OS will be able to stay dominant is because both have a significant platform advantage: the availability of software and content from development and publishing partners. It’s an advantage that In-Stat thinks will be insurmountable for competitors, and the recent cautionary tale of HP’s TouchPad (s hpq) seem to back that assumption up.

The TouchPad's multitasking was one of its strengths but ultimately couldn't save it.

While many were impressed with webOS, the mobile operating system powering the TouchPad, and not offended by the hardware itself (which did have more in common with the original iPad than the current model, despite competing for consumers’ dollars with the newer Apple device), third-party developer support was severely lacking when compared to the iOS and Android ecosystems.

In-Stat also predicts that the overall tablet market will grow to 250 million shipments by 2017, up from around 17 million in 2010. New devices from Apple, Motorola(s mmi), LG and HTC will help spur that growth, according to the report, as well as new devices from BlackBerry.(s rimm) It’s that last one I’m not so sure about. RIM’s PlayBook isn’t doing so hot so far, and we’ve heard that carrier support is eroding for the device, at least in the U.S. In-Stat even acknowledges that “wireless operator business models could have a tremendous impact on future tablet demand,” and I agree; subsidies will help non-Apple devices catch up. If RIM is already being locked out in that regard for poor performance, it seems unlikely that new tablet designs from the BlackBerry maker could turn the tide.

The PlayBook is a 7-inch device, a form factor outnumbered among tablets by larger screens.

One final highlight from the In-Stat report: The company predicts 9- to 11-inch devices to rule the roost, with 56 percent of the tablet market. I agree that larger screens will continue to beat out smaller devices, but I question whether it will even be that close of a race. As of yet, 7-inch devices haven’t really proved their viability: Samsung’s Galaxy Tab is the best-selling example, and it still doesn’t seem to have come close to the iPad’s numbers, even if you count shipments instead of sales.

I fully agree with In-Stat that the tablet market will expand by leaps and bounds in the next few years, and I also agree that iOS and Android will lead that expansion. But I’m not sure that Android will make up as much of that expansion as In-Stat suggests. Google is beset on all sides by patent claims that call in to question Android’s future, and it has yet to release a solid version of its mobile OS that really stands up well on tablet hardware. One thing’s for sure: Apple has a seat at the head of the tablet table, and that’s a very good place to be, if recent trends are any indication.