The global tablet market is expanding at a phenomenal rate, driven mostly by demand for Apple's iPad.

In the third quarter of 2010 the media tablet market grew by 45.1 percent.

3Q10 shipments reached 4.8 million units globally - 87.4 percent of which were Apple's iPad.

"Apple definitively led the worldwide media tablet market in shipments and set the standard for technology innovation in 2010, with nearly 4.2 million units shipped in 3Q10 and an 87.4% share worldwide," said market researcher IDC in a January 18 report on the worldwide media tablet and e-reader market.

iPads were not the only devices consumers snapped up during the year, e-readers too saw a spike in popularity.

During the third quarter of 2010 global e-reader shipments grew to 2.7 million units, a 40 percent increase from 2Q10 figures. 

The US represented almost three quarters of the worldwide e-reader market, due largely to the fact that leading manufactures like Barnes and Noble, Pandigital and Amazon were either exclusively selling their tablets in the US or were focusing their efforts on capturing a larger proportion of the US market.

Amazon gained the title of market leader for the quarter shipping more than 1.1 million units and taking a 41.5 percent share of the worldwide market.

Pandigital's Novel e-readers came in a far second, shipping around 440,000 units. Book retailer Barnes and Noble was a close third, shipping around 420,000 units of its Nook e-reader.

IDC believes both the e-reader and tablet markets will continue to grow throughout 2011.

The market forecaster says e-reader shipments in 2010 will close at around 10.8 million worldwide. In 2011 and 2012 global shipments are expected to reach 14.7 million units and 16.6 million units respectively.

Demand will be driven by "price competition among epaper-based device vendors, the introduction of color display ereaders, and the expansion of digital book and periodical content offerings across genres and languages," says IDC.

IDC is predicting an even roseier future for the media tablet market: with 17 million unit shipments globally in 2010, 44.6 million in 2011 and 70.8 million units in 2012.

"Media tablet market growth is expected to accelerate significantly in 1Q11 with new products from multiple high-profile device vendors, including Motorola's Xoom, based on Android 3.0 (Honeycomb), and RIM's BlackBerry PlayBook based on BlackBerry Tablet OS," says IDC.

The market researcher believes "[g]rowth in 2011 and beyond will be driven by device vendors introducing media tablets based on Android and other operating systems, as well as price and feature competition and strong demand in both the consumer and commercial segments."