SINGAPORE: Shipments of "tablets" like Apple's iPad will rise by more than 50% a year in Asia Pacific over the period to 2014, according to a new report.

IDC, the research firm, estimated that 1.3 million of these devices were sold in APAC (excluding Japan) in 2009, with totals set to jump to 9.6 million units in four years time, an average annual growth of 65%.

HP, Microsoft and Dell are all competing with Apple in this sector, with Australia, Hong Kong and Singapore due to be the key battlegrounds in the short term, being joined by China and Korea thereafter.

IDC defined "tablet form factor devices" as boasting colour displays of seven to 12 inches in size, utilising ARM processors and employing operating systems such as Apple's iOS and Google's Android.

The iPad, which reached two million in sales in less than two months, has characterised the initial wave of these gadgets, but a range of manufacturers are likely to have a major role to play going forward.

"Media tablets are expected to occupy a space between smartphones and portable PCs without replacing either," said Bryan Ma, associate vice president for Asia-Pacific devices and peripherals research at IDC.

"They will complement PCs as media consumption devices, while allowing seamless sharing of content with mobile phones."

Although these "slates" have become fashionable items to own, their future development will depend on the attitudes and habits of the influencers which have been the first to snap them up.

"Currently marketed as multifunction entertainment devices, the success of media tablets will hinge critically on the availability of local applications and content," said Ma.

"They are certainly the talk of the town today, but the next year or so will be critical for the category's evolution as early adopters figure out what they really need a media tablet for, and in what kind of usage scenario."

In Asia, it is proving more difficult to access and convert the kind of print content that would enable these wireless tools to double as e-readers.

But Ma said there were other avenues through which developers can generate revenues.

"Even if e-Book content is not as readily available in Asia as in Western countries, simple web surfing and gaming apps could still provide enough of a value proposition to allow the category to move forward here," he suggested.

Among the main obstacles to this outcome are complex technical considerations, such as whether to use hardware created by ARM, or one of a number of x86 alternatives.

The plethora of operating systems from which to choose, a group that also features MeeGo and WebOS, is posing similar problems as organisations seek to offer the best possible functionality and popular apps.

"With operators migrating towards 4G networks in the coming years, media tablets will further become a strategic vehicle for increased mobile data usage," Ma concluded.

"There are certainly roadblocks, but the media tablet appears here to stay."

Data sourced from Telecomyatra; additional content by Warc staff