Boom: Forecast Calls for 180 Million Tablets by 2014

Wow… I know we had shifted into a multi-touch world, but even I had underestimated the growing popularity of tablets. At CES earlier this year, more than a few tablets were on display. Yesterday, Google announced the Android Honeycomb OS for tablets. And now, one of the key suppliers to the tablet market is calling for a tablet boom.

At its annual meeting in New York, Corning, the Corning, NY-based company that makes glass-based products, said that the demand for its Gorilla Glass, a key component of tablets and touch screen phones are on an upswing. They are forecasting a total of 180 million tablet units by 2014 versus 20 million in 2010. James P. Clappin, president, Corning Glass Technologies Group pointed out in a press statement that the personal computer market that includes tablets will grow at a compound annual rate of about 16% through 2014.

I have been following the emergence of Gorilla Glass for some time now. Corning, is an old school company that rose to meteoric highs during the optical boom of the late 1990s. The telecom crash pulverized the company, but since then the company clawed its way back, thanks to demand for LCD televisions. In 2008, the company started selling Gorilla Glass, and since then it has become a much-in-demand product.

What is Gorilla glass? It’s basically a super-strong LCD glass, which is produced much like LCD, then is given a boost by soaking in a potassium nitrate solution. This process is essentially how soda lime glass is made. The Gorilla glass marries the hardness and scratch-resistant nature of old glass milk bottles with thin and light LCD glass. Those two qualities — tough and light — make it perfect for the smartphone market.

Gorilla Glass is used by devices such as iPhone, iPad, Droid, Samsung Galaxy Range and Dell Streak among others.

At its analyst day, it seems Corning indicated that Gorilla Glass was going into growth mode and the company is notching more design wins from smartphones, tablets and other devices. According to company officials, Gorilla Glass is Corning’s fastest growing product. “We expect the number of these devices using cover glass to quadruple over the next four years, presenting us with a significant opportunity for growth,” said Clappin.

“This is a world of specialty glass with vivid displays, multi-functional ‘smart’ surfaces, and interactive devices,” said CEO Wendell Weeks. He argued that with fiber networks growing across the planet and mobile device demand booming, the company is on its way to $10 billion in sales. The company is also expecting the fiber to the home market to grow 18 percent for the next few years. And optical wireless is another area for growth for the company.

It is not all-smooth sailing for the company – Japan’s Asahi Glass has recently introduced their version of Gorilla Glass called Dragontrail and will be competing for similar customers as Corning. They are hoping to take about 30 percent of the market by 2012 and have sales of $360 million. Analysts expect Coring to sell a billion dollars worth of Gorilla Glass in 2011 –  a major chunk of that coming from tablets and touch-based phones.

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