Apple is getting some competition. Big-name manufacturers like Hewlett Packard, LG and Samsung all want to take on the iPad, which currently rules the roost for tablet computers, and they’re relying on the Android operating system to help them do so.

Apple might lose its lead status as early as 2012, say some experts. But it’s all good news for consumers, who might get to enjoy sinking prices.

“By the end of 2012, Android tablets will rapidly overtake the iPad in market share,” forecasts expert Sascha Pallenberg during the Droidcon developers’ conference in Berlin.

Currently, Apple sells nine of every 10 tablet computers purchased, according to market experts. But the “sheer mass” of Android-based tablet computers will guarantee their success says Pallenberg, who blogs about technology from his base in Taiwan.

Ten larger manufacturers, as well as countless smaller ones, currently sell devices of different sizes and categories. In the coming months, companies like RIM, LG, Asus, Acer and Hewlett Packard will all bring iPad competitors to market.

Many of them run with new Android software dubbed Honeycomb, designed especially for tablet computers. Android is open source software developed under the watchful eye of Google.

In light of the growing competition, supply is almost certainly going to exceed demand, says Pallenberg. That will weigh on the price of Android products: “The manufacturers have to get rid of their products.” But Apple sets the mark for prices. “It’s all about being cheaper then the iPad,” Pallenberg says. At the same time, Apple is in a situation where it can produce cheaply, which will be a challenge for the others.

Pallenberg says smartphones will also provide a push toward more capacity. “I am certain that the first mobile phone with quad core processors will be delivered in the first quarter of 2012,” he says.

So far, this kind of technology has generally been reserved for PCs. Dual core processors and the playback of high quality video, until now the provenance of superphones, will become standard, and all for about 500 dollars.

The 1,200 visitors to Droidcon discussed the future of the Android platform. One focus was augmented reality, or the enhancement of reality with technological help. It involves recording one’s surroundings with a mobile phone’s camera and then enriching the image displayed on one’s phone with additional information, like stores’ opening times, local attractions, or restaurant menus.

For now, most augmented reality functions are just for fun, but software developers want to turn it into a standard technology for everyday use. Droidcon participants tried to envision these practical applications, from satellite navigation systems to interactive instructions for zombie games.

There are already practical applications, like tourist guides, assistance for apartment searches or in games. But others see additional everyday uses, from museum guides that describe exhibits to interactive lotteries for TV shows to user guides that include animation to show exactly how a device should be used.

Marketing research company Juniper Research forecasts that the number of augmented reality applications downloaded will grow from 11 million last year to 14 billion by 2015, with sales of 1.5 billion dollars.

Keywords: tablet market