Just three years from now, the number of annual netbook shipments is set to reach almost 120 million units - a figure more than double that of the forecasted 2010 shipments - but insiders are confident that this number will have little impact on future PC sales.

The relatively new computer category has grown significantly since its humble beginnings in 2008.

The rapid increase in sales experienced since the launch of the netbook category is an ongoing trend that market researcher ABI Research believes will not slow down until at least 2014.

ASUS's pioneering Eee PC - one of the first netbooks to appear in the market - gave the company a good headstart in the netbook market share race. In 2008 ASUS and rival computer manufacturer Acer held almost equal one-third shares of the market but by 2009 those shares had started to shift among vendors.

"Instead of having a preeminent two," noted principal analyst Jeff Orr in a report released on July 22, "it looks as if only Acer will continue to maintain its commanding lead; but at the same time there are more vendors competing head-to-head. Most of the other major names - HP, Dell, Lenovo - increased their market shares in 2009, while Samsung lost a couple of percentage points."

ABI predicts that some of the smaller players will be pushed out of the market in the coming years. "Some firms saw netbooks as an entry point into the PC market. Gigabyte is one example. But with a 2009 market share falling to just 0.1%, Gigabyte might be advised to rethink that strategy," said Orr.

"Other suppliers, such as the OLPC (One Laptop per Child) initiative, have been hit hard by the global recession."

Mainstream consumers are giving the nod to netbooks, not as a replacement device for laptops or PCs (as manufacturers and analysts once predicted) but rather as a complementary device that offers "value rather than raw performance."

During Apple's Q3 2010 earnings reports technology blog CNET reported that Apple COO Tim Cook discussed how the company's tablet device might impact future PC and Mac sales.

Cook suggested that the iPad might even boost Mac sales in the near future, before commenting, "Our guts tell us that this market is very big...if it turns out that iPad cannibalizes PCs, that's fantastic for us because there is a lot of PCs to cannibalize."

According to technology blog CNET, Intel Chief Financial Officer Stacy Smith remarked that the tablet segment would have little impact on the sales of PCs during Intel's earning conference call.

"I think this [tablets] is an additive category of computing much like Netbooks were an additive category," advised Smith.