Tablets could slow netbook shipments in 2010

Netbook shipments could total 8.7 million during the first quarter this year.

Worldwide netbook shipments are expected to grow in the first quarter of 2010, but could be affected as handheld tablets like the iPad gain in popularity, research firm DisplaySearch said in a study released on Monday.

Mini-laptop shipments could be close to 8.7 million units during the first quarter this year, a growth of 44.9 percent compared to first quarter of 2009, said Chris Connery, vice president at DisplaySearch. Tablets aimed at users who want to view video, read e-books and surf the Internet could cut into that share, DisplaySearch said.

Low prices were partly responsible for the growth in netbook shipments, but PC makers and retailers are concerned about the lower margins and revenues generated by the devices, according to John Jacobs, director of notebook market research at DisplaySearch. PC makers may shift their focus to higher-margin products like tablets, which could generate more revenue while delivering similar functionality to netbooks.

Slates that come with content, content delivery mechanisms, and applications will be able to generate more revenue and better margins for manufacturers, retailers and suppliers, according to Jacobs.

The iPad, which started shipping on Saturday, is a handheld device with a 9.7-inch touchscreen on which users can watch videos, read e-books, play video games and surf the Internet. But unlike netbooks, the device does not have a built-in keyboard, which could limit its use for document creation. Hewlett-Packard, Dell, Asus and Lenovo are scheduled to come out with competing slate products later this year.

Despite the threat poised by tablets, netbook shipments will continue to grow, DisplaySearch said. The shipments of mini-laptops, which includes netbooks and slates, this year could total 43.8 million units, year-over-year growth of 28.5 percent. Netbooks will total roughly 20 percent of all portable PC shipments this year, DisplaySearch said.

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