Applications to help tablet users share photos and documents online and print items using ink supplies direct from their mobile device may be among those that become popular in the coming years.

According to a study by ABI Research, owners of iPads and Android devices have become avid users of downloaded programs, with this trend set to continue into the future.

The firm estimated the typical individual currently installs 31 pieces of software on their device, with the majority on these focused on games, digital publishing, social networking and e-commerce.

Projections from the company suggest that by 2016, 11 billion of the 13.7 billion downloads that are forecast to take place will fall into one of these four categories.

Senior analyst at the firm Mark Beccue stated: "Media tablet app consumption will mimic smartphone app use in some ways, but in many ways, it will be very different."

ABI Research predicted the digital publishing of books, magazines and newspapers will flourish on the platforms in a way that never achieved on smaller-screen smartphones.

Although a report this week from International Data Corporation revealed the market for e-readers in Europe, the Middle East and Africa more than doubled in 2011 – with 4.8 million units sold – ABI stated a growing number of consumers are likely to opt for the more versatile tablets ahead of these devices in the next few years.

Mr Beccue explained that tablets are also likely to prove popular with both older and younger age groups due to their ease of use.

He said: "The magic of media tablets for seniors and children is the touch screen interface. It's so intuitive."

These age groups in particular are more likely to rely on dedicated apps to browse content through their devices as opposed to web surfing, the expert continued.

ABI Research added apps will also become increasingly important to e-commerce retailers, who will look to take full advantage of the touch screen interface and even camera and microphone capabilities to offer their customers the best experience.