Apple's splashy launch of the iPad marks the start of the media tablet market that will see shipments reach 4 million units this year, a research firm says.
By 2015, shipments will reach about 57 million units annually, ABI Research predicted Wednesday. While the iPad is not the first media tablet, its high-profile introduction last week at a San Francisco news conference is expected to help redefine the category of devices with a focus on entertainment.
"A tablet will not replace a laptop, netbook, or mobile phone, but will remain an additional premium or luxury product for wealthy industrialized markets for at least several years," ABI analyst Jeff Orr said in a statement.
ABI defines media tablets as having a touchscreen from five to 11 inches in size, with Wi-Fi Internet connectivity and video and gaming capabilities. Before Apple's announcement, a number of computer makers unveiled tablets at the Consumer Electronics Show in January, including Dell, Hewlett-Packard, Lenovo, and Asus. Besides major players, smaller vendors, such as ICD and Notion Ink, also introduced products.
As a whole, device makers' biggest challenge will be in generating interest among potential buyers. Small companies will be at a disadvantage because they often lack the retail partnerships and network operator agreements of the major manufacturers.
"Surprisingly, Apple may have done them (small companies) a favor by raising the public profile of the whole media tablet category," Orr said.
Besides entertainment, tablet computers could become a platform for textbooks. Software maker ScrollMotion, for example, has reached deals with major publishers to adapt their textbooks to tablet computers and other devices The Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday. The publishers include Houghton Mifflin Harcourt K-12, a unit of Education Media & Publishing Group; Pearson PLC's Pearson Education, and Washington Post Co.'s Kaplan.
The iPad, which is scheduled to be available in late March, has also increased interest in mobile applications. Joshua Greenman, president of Mercury Development, a custom application developer based in St. Louis, Mo., told InformationWeek that he has seen a flurry of new interest in iPad apps and continued interest in Apple's iPhone.