The latest data from IDC confirms what many of you already believe --  tablet and eReader sales are growing wildly. The market, led by Apple’s iPad, continues to add new products and consumer lust for the latest and greatest gadget shows no signs of abating.

Tablets by the Numbers

IDC’s Worldwide Quarterly Media Tablet and eReader Tracker shows that tablet and eReader sales have increased 264.5% from the same quarter last year. Ravenous consumer demand resulted in 18.1 million units being shipped in the third quarter of 2011. IDC predicts there will continue to be strong demand in fourth quarter and into 2012. These are impressive numbers for the must-have device that very few people actually need.

Apple’s iPad continues to dominate the market. The company sold 11.1 million units in the third quarter, which represents 61.5% of the total market. Apple is unquestionably the industry leader, but even the beautiful giant cannot become complacent. There is a constant stream of highly capable new devices that retail at a much lower price than the iPad. The increased competition has resulted in a slight decrease from Apple’s second quarter market share of 63.3%. If Apple slows the pace of its innovation, it will likely find themselves in position similar to the once great Research in Motion.

HP entered and quickly exited the market in the third quarter with its TouchPad. Despite the rapid descent, HP managed to obtain a 5% share of the worldwide market by shipping 903,354 units, making it number three behind Samsung. This is the first quarter that IDC has included LCD-based devices like Barnes & Noble's Nook into the media tablet category, and the devices have made a strong showing. Barnes & Noble shipped 805,458 units and won the number four spot with a 4.5% market share. Barnes and Nobles is followed by ASUS, which has a 4% share.

The shows that Android-based tablets lost market share from the previous quarter; sales were down to 32.4% in 3Q 2011 from 33.2% the previous quarter. However, IDC anticipates the loss will be short-lived. Analysts are predicting that fourth quarter Android sales will rise to a 40.3% market share due to the entrance of Amazon’s Kindle Fire.

It isn’t just tablet sales experiencing growth. In 3Q11 the eReader sales grew to 6.5 million units, up from 5.1 million units in the second quarter, which is a year-over-year growth rate of 165.9%. IDC expects growth to continue in the fourth quarter due to new low-priced market entrants such as Amazon’s US $79 Kindle.

Where is the Handheld Market Headed?

Continued growth in the market shows that consumer desire to be constantly entertained and  connected is not slowing. It may seem like almost everyone has a tablet, but the market is still young. As new, more diverse consumers enter the market, vendors have an opportunity to target the unique needs of these and take the knowledge gained from first-generation devices to offer alternatives to the iPad.