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Demand for tablets likely to surpass forecasts

iPad, Kindle shipments said to hit 106m in ’12

Jeff Chiu/Associated Press

Since the iPad’s 2010 debut, millions have used the devices to watch movies, play games, and catch up on the latest news. Many firms have also embraced them.

NEW YORK - Thanks to strong demand for Apple’s iPad and competing devices such as Amazon’s Kindle Fire, worldwide shipments of tablet computers are likely to grow faster than expected this year, according to a newly revised forecast from a leading market research group.

IDC said shipments in the last three months of 2011 were higher than expected. As a result, the research group now projects shipments of 106 million in 2012, up from its previous forecast of nearly 88 million.

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The new figure, out Tuesday, represents a 54 percent increase from the nearly 69 million devices shipped in 2011.

Since the iPad’s debut in 2010, millions of people have flocked to these easy-to-use, easy-to-carry devices to watch movies, play games, and catch up on the latest news and books.

Many businesses have also embraced them. Some airline pilots, for instance, are ditching heavy flight manuals for iPads to make planes lighter and save fuel. Schools are also starting to replace paper textbooks with electronic versions on tablets. Election workers in Oregon used iPads to help the disabled vote.

The rise of tablet computers comes at a time when sales of traditional personal computers are slowing, particularly among consumers in the United States and other industrialized countries. Another research group, Gartner, has forecast that PC shipments will grow at a relatively weak 4 percent this year as products fail to excite consumers the way tablets have.

People and businesses are still buying PCs, which can run multiple programs side by side on the same screen and have keyboards more suited for extensive typing than on-screen ones available for tablets. Gartner expects shipments of nearly 370 million PCs this year, about 3.5 times what IDC projects for tablets.

But traditional PC makers have sparked much of their growth by turning to emerging markets. In industrialized markets, there is evidence that people are delaying replacements for their yearsold PCs and buying tablets instead.

That reason could come late this year when Microsoft releases a new version of Windows designed to support PCs and tablets. Successful PCs running Windows 8 will likely mimic tablets with slim designs, longer battery life, and the ability to turn on instantly, Mainelli said.

Although some researchers estimate that Apple has more than 60 percent of the market for tablet computers, rivals have done well.

The Kindle Fire came out in November with a lower price tag - $199, compared with $499 and up for the iPad at the time. The Fire has a smaller screen and fewer features, but it is good enough for many consumers. IDC estimates that Amazon.com Inc. shipped 4.7 million Kindle Fires by year’s end.

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