Last month, the world's top high-tech manufacturers gathered in
Las Vegas for the annual Consumer Electronics Show. They hobnobbed.
They exchanged business cards. But most important, they introduced
their latest innovations to the world.
Remember, this is the venue where we got our first real glimpse of
VCRs (1970), CD players (1981), and DVDs (1996).
This year there was one category that really stole the show --
tablet computers. More than 80 different tablets were put on
display. And the crowd has been buzzing ever since.
In dollar terms, tablet sales could generate $34 billion in revenue
by next year. And the total will rise dramatically in a short
period of time. That spells plenty of opportunities for investors
who know where to look.
The critics are quick to claim that tablets have had plenty of time
to catch on (they've been around since the 1990s); they'll never be
much more than a niche product. I think that view is flawed.
Today's tablets are years ahead of previous generations -- they can
play MP3s, read e-books, stream movies, surf the Internet or video
chat with friends. The combination of better applications and
advanced wireless technologies has laid the foundation for the "Age
of the Tablet."
Citigroup analysts believe sales could reach 35 million units this
year -- and that could be a lowball estimate -- eMarketer is
banking on 70 million, while ISI Group is expecting volume to reach
90 million by 2012. Research firm Gartner is forecasting that
global tablet sales could skyrocket to 208 million by 2014.
That's a 10-fold increase from today's levels.
There's no arguing the direction of the market -- it's just a
matter of how high and how fast. I believe tablets will soon take a
large bite out of handheld gaming consoles, e-readers and other
single-function devices and overtake laptops within the next three
gives us a bullish clue that the transfer of power is already
taking place. The company recently ordered 65 million iPad display
screens from vendors. You don't place an order like that without
being confident that business is about to ramp up considerably.
The handful of companies at the front of the $34-billion
In many regards, it's still Apple against the rest of the world.
But this one-sided contest is about to become anyone's ballgame.
Samsung's new Galaxy Tab is widely considered the first real threat
to the iPad. The flashy device features front and rear-facing
cameras, full 1080 HD video and a host of other bells and whistles.
Samsung shipped more than 1 million units in its first two months.
All four major wireless providers carry the device, which
dramatically widens the distribution channel. And
and T-Mobile are all happy to help push sales -- considering the
accompanying data plans typically bring in $30 a month or more.
Not far behind, well-respected tech outfits like
, LG, Vizio,
and Toshiba will all soon enter the field, along with scores of
lesser-known manufacturers competing at different price points.
They will all be jockeying for position in a booming market.
Skyworks Solutions (Nasdaq:
will be busy supplying internal chips and other components.
It's pretty easy to see that competition in the field will be
brutal across all aspects of the tablet market. But there is one
place where I think a single company is going to end up with the
bulk of the business -- the special glass that goes into every
Action to Take-->
One company has emerged as the world's dominant supplier,
. The firm's future lies in Gorilla Glass, which is engineered at
the molecular level to be thin, strong and scratch-resistant.
Without getting too technical, Gorilla Glass is sensitive to the
touch, yet nearly impervious to damage. Those attributes make the
glass an ideal cover for smartphones, tablets, laptops, LCD
monitors and the newest 3-D televisions.
Thanks to Gorilla Glass, Corning's Specialty Materials segment
posted impressive 77% revenue growth last quarter. And with the
market growing by leaps and bounds, I'm expecting this one segment
to produce more than $1 billion in sales next year, quadruple what
it made last year. That's a nice slice of a still-young tablet
-- Nathan Slaughter
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Disclosure: Neither Nathan Slaughter nor StreetAuthority, LLC
hold positions in any securities mentioned in this article.