iPad App StoreA new ABI Research report on Wednesday revealed that iPad users have downloaded over 3 billion applications since Apple launched the first device in 2010 – that’s 19% of all cumulative iOS App Store downloads. Apple’s iPhone took two years to reach the same landmark, ABI said, further highlighting the tremendous popularity the iPad has enjoyed over the past year and a half. To put the 3 billion number in perspective, Android tablets have accrued 440 million downloads until present day.

Aside from offering a much larger tablet curated store, iPad specific apps are generally perceived as much better quality compared to the competition, allowing its App Store to achieve such an incredible number. However, ABI estimates the gap may shrink as more manufacturers adopt Android 4.0 and the new quad-core standard. Of course, Apple could just as well go down the same hardware path with its upcoming iPad 3.

“Discounting all those apps that were originally developed for Android smartphones, Android still trails greatly behind the iPad in terms of its tablet app offerings,” says research associate Lim Shiyang. “Many Android tablets in the market are still using older versions of Android, which disadvantages users from enjoying the better effects of apps produced from more advanced software development kits.”

ABI Research, which tracks mobile app downloads, estimates Apple offers more than 120,000 iPad specific apps as of Q3 2011.

“In terms of hardware, the iPad device still offers much more compared to the current crop of tablets in the market,” comments Dan Shey, practice director, mobile services. “Android is currently being used on many low end tablets that do not offer experiences anywhere near the iPad and this dampens the download momentum for users.”

Releases like the Transformer Prime may ignite a new era of sorts regarding Android tablet popularity, especially when the device upgrades to Ice Cream Sandwich on January 12. Will manufacturers figure out  a way to offer the perfect marriage of software, hardware and price to dethrone the iPad in 2012? We may be seeing signs of that already.