Waltham, Mass. - The global consulting firm
has pointed to several reasons for the large number of vendors entering the tablet category.
PRTM noted that Tablet PC projected growth rates exceed smartphone growth rates because of suppliers' ability to reuse technology already offered in smartphones.
Companies "have been able to leverage proven capabilities from mobile phones, dramatically reducing the cost and time to market," said PRTM partner Huw Andrews, who authored the tablet study. "Chipsets, operating systems, application platforms, touch screens, channels and business models are all being re-used," he explained. "This has helped many aggressive, new companies to become front-runners." Of the 30 tablets on sale in 2010, less than 30 percent were offered by global brands, he pointed out. "This helps to explain the many announcements at CES by global companies. Clearly some have been caught dozing and will now struggle to catch up.
The tablet companies are also attracted by the market's potential. The 17 million tablets sold worldwide in 2010 "established a new product category," and 200 million units will be sold annually by 2014, he said. "This level of growth, four times that of smartphones and five times that of PCs, establishes the tablet space as a mobile computing beachhead where tablet makers can attack both the mobile phone and laptop fronts."
As of now, 102 tablets are either on sale or in development by 64 makers, PRTM said. "With so many players committing with such unprecedented speed, the tablet space has become a battlefront for a blend of new entrants, established PC and mobile phone makers, and their key global suppliers," Huw said.
For example, of the 102 tablets announced to date, 57 percent use processors powered by ARM, and 29 percent use Intel, Huw said. "Both ARM and Intel view tablets as a new core business as well as a beachhead to other products. Meeting head-on, ARM is trading on its leadership in enabling mobile phone processors, Intel on its position in the PC market."
Tablets have also become an OS battleground. Google's OS has been adopted by 55 percent of all tablets, while Microsoft's Windows has been adopted by 29 percent.
Tablets also represent an app-store battleground, with Apple boasting 350,000 apps while the Android Market boasts 230,000 applications, a growing number of which are usable on tablets, Huw said.
While these battles continue, tablet manufacturers are experimenting with a wide variety of screen sizes from 5 to 10 inches, with 7 and 10 inches being most popular, Huw said. At the larger screen sizes, "watching widescreen video is a good user experience even though it does not fill the entire screen, Huw noted. Manufacturers are also considering whether new aspect ratios such as 16:9 might attract new customers. Applications such as e-mail and gaming work well with the current 4:3 aspect ratio, but avid viewers of high-definition video would likely prefer 16:9, he said. In the near term, new entrants from China, Taiwan, and Korea will more likely experiment with wide screen form factors, he said.
One challenge to 16:9 adoption is practical. Wide-screen tablets might not fit well in many briefcases and portfolios tailored to traditional laptop computers and papers, Huw explained.