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It is not a secret that Apple is facing great demand towards its iPad mini media tablet and it is also well-known that the popularity of smaller form-factor slates is growing in general. According to market trackers, such as NPD DisplaySearch and IHS iSuppli, Apple dramatically reduced acquisition of 9.7” display panels for iPad and showed more interest towards 7.9” panels for iPad mini.

Shipments of 9.7” tablet panels used in tablets like Apple’s iPad nosedived 81% in January, according to IHS iSuppli. Shipments of 9.7” tablet PC panels collapsed, falling from 7.4 million in December to 1.3 million units in January, while 7”and 7.9”panel shipments grew rapidly, from 12 million to 14 million, according to a report from NPD DisplaySearch.

The 9.7” size was not unique among tablet panels experiencing a downturn during the period, as other sizes also saw a contraction in monthly shipments. The 8.9” LCD panels, used in the Amazon Kindle Fire HD, retreated by an even larger 92% drop, according to IHS.

Shipments of 10.1”panels grew only slightly in January, DisplaySearch claims. Two other tablet panel sizes also enjoyed increased monthly shipments are the 10.6”, used in Microsoft Surface tablets, up 16% from the month earlier (still, a negligible figure); and the 11.6”, which some PC makers are planning to use for their Windows 8 tablet-sized offerings to compete with the Surface, up 14%.

The January panel shipment data may be an indicator for 2013, starting with Apple’s product mix shift. At present it is believed that the iPad mini will outsell the normal iPad by a wide margin this year. However, shipments of panels in January may not be the best indicator as it generally is the most depressive month of the year. Nonetheless, all the analysts are sure that in 2013 the market will see considerably more competitive small form-factor tablets this year.

Tablet PC Panel Shipment in December, 2012, and January, 2013 (million units)
Data by NPD DisplaySearch

There are challenges incoming as well. Many panel makers are developing 7” panels with 1920*1200 or even 8.9” screens with 1920*1200 or 2048*1536 resolution with more than 300ppi pixel density. However, there will be challenges for a smooth panel supply. There are three technology choices for such high resolution in the 7”-9” segment: a-Si, LTPS, and oxide. Every panel maker has a different strategy and it is completely unclear which technology becomes a mainstream.

Until now, 7” - 9” tablet PC purchases are mainly due to the comparatively lower price point. However, this is not a long-term solution for brands. With upgrades in resolution, function, and product design, can 7-9” tablet PCs move to a more premium positioning, targeting users willing to pay a premium for a high-end product even if it is smaller.

Tags: Apple, iPad, Samsung, Galaxy Tab, Amazon, Kindle Fire, AU Optronics, Sharp, LG Display, Samsung Display

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