Plastics are being replaced in small, thin electronic devices, such as some computer tablets, by castings of aluminum and other metals in part because metal provides stiffness. However, bigger computer monitors and television sets remain a stronghold for large, extruded plastic sheets.
For small devices, as they get thinner, plastics is not used as much as it was, said Roger Kay, president of Endpoint Technologies Associates Inc. in Wayland, Mass.
Numerous products such as Dell Inc. servers, high-end Hewlett-Packard Co. products and Apple Inc.'s iPad 2 tablet seem to be veering away from plastics.
Kay called it a countermovement underscoring the need for robustness. For example, smaller notebook computers don't need a big case anymore, and [brand manufacturers] favor metal for stiffness.
But he added that the larger applications constitute a bright spot for plastics.
A monitor basically has as much plastics as glass, he said. From a plastic perspective, monitor backs and tablet backs remain viable markets.
Many companies are pursuing the tablet market.
Dell has the Streak 7 tablet soon to become the Streak 10 at 10 diagonal inches and Inspiron Duo, a hybrid flip-screen netbook and tablet personal computer. HP offers its Slate 500 running a full version of Windows 7. Motorola Mobility Inc. has a 10-diagonal-inch, Android-powered Xoom tablet. AsusTek Computer Inc. has a series of tablets. ZTE Corp. plans its Z-pad. And Toshiba Corp. is launching a 10.1-diagonal-inch, Android tablet.
While media tablets present new opportunities, they should complement traditional, plastics-rich laptop computers and smartphones, according to technology-oriented research firm Gartner Inc. of Stamford, Conn.
But there is no assurance of the future role of plastics in media tablets.
Gartner projects 2011 shipments of about 69 million media tablets a small fraction of the volume of application-capable handheld devices.
David Willis suggests that chief information officers take media tablets seriously, rather than repeat the earlier reaction to smartphones as expensive and frivolous toys. Willis is a research vice president for Gardner.
Media tablets with displays as small as 7 diagonal inches may replace mobile phones as voice devices, according to Gartner.
Willis said Apple of Cupertino, Calif., is ahead of competitors, developing a range of applications for media tablets, but the eventual prevailing platform in this niche will have a strong supporting ecosystem. At this time, Apple is the leader with its curated applications.
Including media tablets, Gartner projects computing hardware spending will grow from 7.5 percent to 9.5 percent during 2011, to reach $409 billion globally.
Further, Gartner envisions the media-tablet portion reaching $29.4 billion in 2011, up from $9.6 billion last year, and increasing at an annual average rate of 52 percent through 2015.
In the television market, for the quarter ended Dec. 31, Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd.'s brand had 21.4 percent of the global flat-panel market, according to research and consulting firm DisplaySearch LLC, a unit of Port Washington, N.Y.-based NPD Group Inc.
DisplaySearch said other major players included Sony Electronics Inc. with 14.2 percent; LG Electronics Inc., 12.7 percent; Panasonic Corp., 8.3 percent; and Sharp Electronics Corp., 8.1 percent.
Santa Clara, Calif.-based DisplaySearch reports that TV sets with liquid-crystal-display screens accounted for 81.8 percent of worldwide shipments during the 2010 fourth quarter vs. sets with older cathode-ray-tube technology at 10.8 percent or plasma-display panels at 7.3 percent.
The iPod touch has a recyclable stainless-steel enclosure and weighs 3.56 ounces, which Apple said is 16 percent lighter that its previous iPod model. The iPod is listed at $229 for 8 gigabytes of memory, $299 for 32GB and $399 for 64GB.
The Apple iPhone 4 smartphone has a plastic case for the external battery and a reinforced plastic back panel but has a PVC-free handset, headphones and USB cable.
The 16-GB iPhone 4 is listed at $199 and the 32-GB model at $299, both through AT&T Inc.'s wireless segment or the Verizon Wireless joint venture of Verizon Communications and Vodafone Group plc.
Foxconn International Holdings Ltd. of New Taipei City, Taiwan, is a major producer of iPad, iPhone and iPod devices for Apple.