Apple's iPad is far from being the first tablet released in the world, but market researcher ABI believes its high-profile position in the media eye will have a lasting effect on the tablet market in the years ahead.

Tablet shipments are forecast to skyrocket from four million units in 2010 to about 57 million units annually in 2015. ABI attributes the large jump in numbers to the release of Apple's iPad.

Media coverage surrounding Apple's tablet device has generated genuine interest in the tablet sector across the globe.

"The biggest challenge faced by the media tablet category is how they will reach the market and generate awareness among potential buyers," explained senior ABI analyst Jeff Orr on February 2.

"New entrants to this market are at a disadvantage since they lack the retail relationships and network operator agreements already built by the more mature vendors. Surprisingly, Apple may have done them a favor by raising the public profile of the whole media tablet category."

The information forms part of ABI Research's study called "Media Tablets" published on February 2. The full report can be read here: