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Shipments of tablet PCs are expected to grow from 72.7 million units in 2011 to 383.3 million units by 2017, according to figures in the latest NPD DisplaySearch Tablet Quarterly report. Driving the demand is the continued solid growth in mature markets complemented by increasingly strong growth in emerging markets. The report said emerging markets are expected to account for up to 46 percent of worldwide shipments by 2017, an increase from the 36 percent share in 2011.

In addition to broader market opportunities driving growth, evolution of the tablet platform will also increase growth, the company said. That evolution is expected to initially take the form of higher pixel densities and, in the later years of the forecast, higher performance to enable richer multimedia experiences. In the coming quarters, resolutions and pixel densities will increase in panels, resulting in market segmentation of premium and value categories. Pixel densities of 200-300 pixels per inch (ppi) are forecast to rise in 30 percent of units in 2012 to 47. percent by 2017.

“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.”

The introduction of tablets from new brands, such as Aakash in India, and established brands, such as Dell in China, is also boosting competition and adoption. Penetration rates of tablet PCs in China and Asia Pacific are leading the emerging market regions, but Brazil, India, Russia and other countries are becoming bigger forces on the worldwide scene as prices come down and distribution channels expand. Additionally as counties such as Turkey move to overhaul its entire education systems through efforts such as their FATIH project, Tablet PCs are also taking on a bigger role outside of the home as well, the study concluded.

“Growth in the emerging markets will be accompanied by competition at lower price points,” says Jim McGregor, NPD In-Stat chief technology strategist. “This will result in significant opportunities for processors that can optimize power and performance while achieving device price points that are often under $100."