Tablet sales expected to grow fivefold by 2017

NPD Group estimates tablet shipments to reach 383 million in five years

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By 2017, global shipments of tablet computers will be five times what they were last year, according to NPD Group's DisplaySearch Tablet Quarterly report released Monday.

And some of them won't even be iPads.

Shipments of tablet PCs should grow to 383.3 million units by 2017 from 72.7 million units in 2011, according to the NPD report. Apple reported selling 40.49 million iPads last year. That's just 56% of the total tablet shipments cited by NPD, well below the usual iPad market share estimates of 70% to 80%, but "shipments" don't necessarily translate into sales. HP and Research in Motion could tell you something about that.

NPD said it expects "continued solid growth in mature markets complemented by increasingly strong growth in emerging markets." Emerging markets accounted for 36% of worldwide tablet shipments last year. That should increase to 46% by 2017, according to NPD.

“The emerging market opportunity for tablets has been flying under the radar mainly because the device brands aren’t household names and there are concerns regarding the sustainability of the market,” said Richard Shim, NPD DisplaySearch Senior Analyst. “However, we are beginning to see investments by some of the better known brands in developing regions, and we expect this to not only continue but to flourish as competition improves.”

While tablet PC penetration rates in emerging markets are highest in China and the Asia Pacific, "Brazil, India, Russia and other countries are becoming bigger forces on the worldwide scene as prices come down and distribution channels expand."

While Apple's iPad has dominated the tablet market since its launch in April 2010 -- with total sales exceeding 55 million -- competition generally has fallen into two categories: similarly priced tablets that aren't as good as the starting-at-$499 iPad (TouchPad and PlayBook) and less expensive devices (Kindle Fire, Nook) with limited functionality.

But it's still early in the tablet game, and you have to believe there's a manufacturer out there who can deliver a quality, made-by-Chinese-slave-labor competitively priced device that can carve into the iPad's hefty lead.

That would be good for consumers -- as choice always is -- and karma.

Karma? Yes. Apple could use a generous dose of humility, judging by CEO Tim Cook's comments during last week's earnings conference call, when he quipped, "Last year was supposed to be the year of the tablet. I think most people would agree that it was the year of the iPad – for the second year in a row."

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