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Emerging markets expected to propel tablet market to 383 million units in 2017

A new analysis projects worldwide tablet shipments to grow to 383.3 million in 2017 as the portion of tablets purchased by customers emerging markets increases.

Research group NPD published data on Monday (via TechCrunch) supporting its belief that the emerging market will grow from a 36 percent share of worldwide tablet shipments in 2011 to 46 percent in 2017.

"The emerging market opportunity for tablets has been flying under the radar mainly because the device brands aren’t household names and there are concerns regarding the sustainability of the market," said NPD Senior Analyst Richard Shim.

Shim went on to say that "some of the better known brands" have begun investing in developing regions. "We expect this to not only continue, but to flourish as competition improves,” he continued.

NPD said China and Asia Pacific currently have the highest tablet penetration rates among emerging markets, though Brazil, India and Russia are also expected to experience significant growth. Apple is expected to contribute strongly tablet sales with its iPad, but, according to the firm, low-end pricing will be crucial to opening up growth in those regions. As such, budget tablet makers may seize an opportunity to gain market share in developing nations.

Assuming that NPD's estimates are correct, the global tablet market is set to surpass the current size of the PC market in the next five years. Gartner estimated earlier this month that worldwide PC shipments last year total 353 million, up just 0.5 percent from 2010. The fourth quarter was a particularly difficult quarter for the PC market, as worldwide shipments declined 1.4 percent, while U.S. shipments fell 6 percent year over year.

A separate analysis from Canalys on Monday showed that the PC market experienced a quarterly gain when the iPad was counted and a loss without it. Apple's combined 15.4 million iPads and 5.2 million Macs were estimated to account for 17 percent of worldwide PC shipments in the December quarter.

Improvements to screen resolution and processor performance are also expected to drive rapid growth in the tablet platform, especially in developed markets. NPD believes tablets with pixel densities of between 250ppi to 300ppi will make up roughly 30 percent of shipments by 2017. As tablet makers increase specifications for their devices, the market will likely split into "premium" and "value" category tablets.

Apple is widely believed to be readying a third-generation iPad with a pixel density of 254ppi. CEO Tim Cook said last week during a quarterly earnings call that he already views "limited function" tablets such as Amazon's Kindle Fire as being in a different category from the iPad.