By the end of 2010, its estimated that Apple sold 8.5 million iPads. What’s even more impressive about that number is the market dominance they represent – that is nearly 90% of all tablet sales in the United States. However, that is clearly not deterring Apple competitors from making major investments in the hopes of unseating the iPad from its throne. And the research group eMarketer predicts they will have some success. By 2012, they estimate that tablet sales will go from approximately 9.7 million in 2010 to 40.6 million in 2012, with Apple’s share of this booming market dropping to 74%. In Las Vegas last week, CES 2011 turned out to be an opportunity for companies to showcase the devices they believe will be taking this market share from Apple.

One of the tablets generating the most hype is the Motorola Xoom, which received the CNET Best in Show award. The Xoom will be the first tablet to run the Google Honeycomb platform, an OS designed specifically for tablets. Some key features include dual facing cameras, a 10.1 inch 1280×800 resolution screen, expandable SD memory, Flash support, and numerous data outputs including USB and HDMI. So what does this mean for healthcare? Well, in a lot of ways, much of this sounds like a flashback to the emergence of Android devices as competitors to the iPhone. Applying what we learned from that experience, we can make a few predictions about what healthcare can expect from the newly competitive tablet market.

Over a year ago, we started looking at how the then next-generation tablets, heralded by the iPad, could impact healthcare. When Android entered the market, we identified several key strengths and weaknesses that would impact the penetration of the two platforms into the healthcare market. Given that we’re still dealing with the same two companies – Google and Apple – much of that still applies.

From the Google end, represented by the Xoom, there are several key benefits for healthcare. The SD expandable memory, the USB and HDMI outputs – these features, likely to be present on many Honeycomb devices, will likely generate a more competitive market for medical peripherals and other add-ons quite simply because these are all broadly accepted standards. As with the iPhone, we can expect that Apple will tend to stick with proprietary technology that may be a detractor to future innovators.

However, it is precisely this ceding of control which will also be a weakness for the Xoom and Honeycomb tablets. With Android, one key issue we’ve frequently seen is app compatibility issues across different Android devices. It would certainly behoove Google to solve that problem on Honeycomb, because its a major Android detractor both for consumers and developers. Hopefully however developers and consumers alike will learn from the iPad experience that tablet apps are not simply blown-up smartphone apps. This experience with the iPad could mean a much richer app market at launch for Honeycomb and Xoom.

Now much of the press around the Xoom compares it to the iPad, which is a bit unreasonable given that Apple is widely expected to release the next generation of the iPad in the first half of this year. So “advantages” that others cite like the dual facing cameras are likely to disappear pretty soon after the Xoom is released. But the reviewers at CNET seem to think that the Xoom has nailed one of the iPad’s key strength, a strength that particularly distinguished the iPhone from many of its early competitors – the form factor. Described as simply “beautiful,” the Xoom may in fact turn out to be a real challenger to the iPad, this generation or the next.

With release of the Xoom slated for some time in the next two months and the iPad 2 in the next five months, its going to be an exciting year for tablets.