Following the successful launch of the Apple iPad, IDC is expecting worldwide media tablet shipments to see a compound annual growth rate of 57.4 percent, the research firm announced May 20. The figure would boost the 7.6 million tablets expected to ship by the end of 2010 to more than 46 million tablets in 2014.
By comparison, IDC expects 398 million portable PCs to ship in 2014.
"These are early days for media tablets, an altogether new device category that takes its place between smartphones and portable PCs," IDC analyst Susan Kevorkian said in a statement. "IDC expects consumer demand for media tablets to be strongly driven by the number and variety of compatible third-party apps for content and services."
Apple reports that there are "thousands" of apps made specifically for the iPad in its App Store, though the iPad is also compatible with the more than 150,000 apps for the iPhone and iPod touch. However, apps designed for the iPhone and iPod run at a size that's ideal for these devices-while they can be made to fit the iPad's screen, crispness and resolution will change considerably.
Interest in the iPad is expected to induce still more developers to create for the platform, and IDC has previously forecast that the Apple App Store will reach 300,000 apps by the end of 2010. While geared toward consumers, the apps that proved most popular following the iPad's release show that it's also being used for business functions, such as file share, word processing and number crunching.
"The availability of apps unique to media tablets and that differentiate the experience of using one compared with a PC or smartphone will be crucial for driving consumer demand," said Kevorkian. "As the category matures and more media tablet-optimized apps become available, IDC expects that media tablets will evolve beyond nice-to-have devices and become necessities for many consumers."
Quick to follow Apple's lead into a largely undeveloped and potentially rich category, competitors such as Hewlett-Packard and Dell have also introduced plans for tablet products. In early May, Verizon and Google reported they were working on creating a tablet together, and a Sony executive told Bloomberg that Sony has "been taking a deep look at developing a tablet for a number of years" and gauging whether there was enough consumer interest in the form factor. Apple's success with the iPad, one suspects, has likely cleared away most doubts.
A May survey from the Boston Consulting Group found 50 to 75 percent of consumers worldwide likely to purchase a tablet-style device within the next three years, leading BCG to conclude that tablets may become "one of the most successful consumer electronic/tech products."
However, BCG added, large-scale adoption is more likely to occur once manufacturers can settle on lower price points for the devices. The consumer "sweet spot" for a multipurpose media tablet, like the iPad, estimated BCG, is between $130 and $200.
IDC differentiates the media tablet form factor from the tablet PCs sprinkled through the enterprise space by defining media tablets as having 7- to 12-inch color displays, being based on ARM processors and running "lightweight operating systems such as Apple's iPhone OS and Google's Android OS."
Additionally, media tablets rely on pen or stylus input, says IDC, and don't come with a built-in keyboard. Distinguishing them from e-readers, media tablets are also capable of running a variety of applications and offer multiple connectivity options.
EDITOR'S NOTE: A change has been made to reflect that IDC expects 46 million-plus tablets, and 398 million portable PCs, to ship in 2014.