Apple's iPad will drive the burgeoning tablet computer market and shipments could grow sixfold by 2014, IDC said in research released on Thursday.
IDC projected tablet shipments to reach 7 million this year and topping 46 million in 2014.
Tablets becoming differentiated from PCs or smartphones could also push growth, said Susan Kevorkian, programme director at IDC. Applications, content and services designed for tablets could further drive the differentiation.
As more applications become available, tablets will become "necessities for many consumers", Kevorkian said.
IDC defines tablets as media computing devices with diagonal screens between 7 inches and 12 inches, and with no physical keyboard. They run on Arm processors and operating systems such as Apple's iPhone OS and Google's Android OS. Tablets are primarily designed to surf the Web, play games, watch video and read e-books.
Tablet shipments in 2010 will likely be dominated by Apple's iPad, which hit the market on April 3. Earlier this month, Apple said it had sold a million iPads in the first 28 days. Apple offers specialised content for iPads from publishers and has an application store for downloadable programs.
Beyond Apple, a number of other PC makers have their sights set on the tablet market. Hewlett-Packard, which late last month struck a deal to acquire Palm for $1.2 billion, earlier this week said it would use Palm's WebOS in tablets.
Big PC makers such as Asus and Lenovo also plan to release tables with different screen sizes. Smaller companies, including WeTab, Notion Ink and Fusion Garage are either shipping or plan to ship tablets soon.
Seeing the potential in the market, chip companies Intel, Nvidia and AMD are also putting their weight behind the product category. Intel's executives last week at an analyst conference hammered home their interest in the category, saying that tablets with Intel chips will be shown at the upcoming Computex trade show in Taipei in early June. A number of tablets demonstrated so far run on Nvidia's Tegra 2 chip, and AMD has said it was tweaking the Bobcat architecture for "pad" devices.