The launch of Apple's long-awaited iPad is expected to jumpstart the nascent tablet market - with shipments of such devices reaching an annual total of 57 million by 2015.
"Apple's iPad is not the first media tablet - but it does help define this new device category," senior ABI Research analyst Jeff Orr told TG Daily in an e-mailed statement.
"The main focus of media tablets is entertainment. A tablet will not replace a laptop, netbook or mobile phone, but will remain an additional premium or luxury product for wealthy industrialized markets for at least several years."
According to Orr, players on the tablet field fall into two distinct categories: traditional computer vendors such as Lenovo, HP, and Asus; and a number of new, smaller vendors including ICD and Notion Ink.
"The vendors in the latter category are often quite small and little known, and they see this market as an entry-point. Apple is one part of the mix, and will probably be a fairly sizable player," said Orr.
He added that the "biggest challenge" faced by the media tablet category is reaching the market and generating awareness amongst potential buyers.
"New entrants to this market are at a disadvantage since they lack the retail relationships and network operator agreements already built by the more mature vendors. Surprisingly, Apple may have done them a favor by raising the public profile of the whole media tablet category."
Meanwhile, Needham & Company analyst Charlie Wolf has predicted that the multi-touch iPad will see a "moderate" sales start, with two million iPads expected to be moved during fiscal 2010 and another 6 million in 2011.
"The long-term trajectory of iPad sales is unlikely to be revealed in the first 18 months after its introduction this spring," Wolf wrote in an industry note obtained by AppleInsider.
"If the analogy with the iPod and iPhone holds up, history suggests, then, that a hockey stick in sales is unlikely to occur before fiscal 2012, which is beyond our forecast period."