Tablet devices may currently be viewed as novelties, but analysts at ABI Research say four million of the devices will ship this year, growing to about 57-million annually by 2015.

The company says that last week's launch of the Apple iPad heralds "the real start of a new market segment for media tablets".
“Apple’s iPad is not the first media tablet,” says senior ABI Research analyst Jeff Orr. “But it does help define this new device category. The main focus of media tablets is entertainment. A tablet will not replace a laptop, netbook or mobile phone, but will remain an additional premium or luxury product for wealthy industrialised markets for at least several years.”
The research firm defines media tablets as having a touch-screen interface, 5-11 inches in size, with Wi-Fi Internet connectivity and video and gaming capabilities. Other features are available in some media tablets.
Players in this new field, it adds, fall into two camps: traditional computer vendors such as Lenovo, HP, and Asus; and a number of new, smaller vendors such as ICD and Notion Ink. The vendors in the latter category are often quite small and little known, and they see this market as an entry-point. Apple is one part of the mix, says Orr, and will probably be a fairly sizeable player.
“The biggest challenge faced by the media tablet category is how they will reach the market and generate awareness among potential buyers,” Orr says. “New entrants to this market are at a disadvantage since they lack the retail relationships and network operator agreements already built by the more mature vendors. Surprisingly, Apple may have done them a favor by raising the public profile of the whole media tablet category.”