By Manasi Phadke and Mansi Dutta
BANGALORE, Sept 9 (Reuters) - The chipmakers behind thetouchpads that are killing off the laptop mouse and the keys ona mobile phone are battling for supremacy in the latestblockbuster gadget -- the tablet PC.
Boosted by Apple's iPad, sales of tablet, or slate,touchscreen units will jump to more than 136 million in 2014from just 15.4 million this year, says market research firmiSuppli.
Tablet PCs are set to capture three-quarters of the PCtouch market this year, from below 4 percent in 2009, crushingopposition from notebooks, netbooks and monitors.
"The tablet market is going to be one of the largest fortouch screen controllers," said Jennifer Colegrove, director atDisplay Search, which monitors trends in the display sector.
Colegrove expects the tablet PC market to generate $90million in revenue for touchscreen chipmakers this year, andthat could double in 2011.
And those numbers are expected to keep growing -- to ashigh as $500 million by 2012, forecasts Rodman & Renshawanalyst Ashok Kumar, dwarfing unit-for-unit the handsettouchscreen market.
What began as a niche market 15 years ago -- when SiliconValley-based Synaptics put a credit card-sized touchpad on theApple Mac Book -- has exploded into a global touchpad marketforecast to be worth $9 billion within a couple of years acrossPCs, handsets and other gadgets such as e-readers.
While smartphones have driven profits at Synaptics andpeers Cypress Semiconductor Corp and Atmel Corp, these firmsare now gearing up for the latest "killer device" -- the tabletcomputer, a device between a smartphone and a laptop.
Spurred by the success of the fully touch-based iPad, techbrands such as Samsung Electronics, Research in Motion,Motorola, Lenovo Group Ltd and others are expected to launchtablet-like devices soon, establishing a strong market fortouchscreen chipmakers.
"The market growth has been explosive," said Rodman'sKumar. "The product category is here to stay and all the OEMs(original equipment makers) are throwing their hands in therain."
These firms make chips that allow users to control phones,digital music players or PCs by touch -- from a simple tap tomore complex gestures that enable zooming, pinching androtating.
Typically, the dollar content for a touch chip on a tabletdevice is 3-5 times the average selling price of a mobile phonetouch chip.
"There could be anywhere between $10-$15 worth of contentapiece (in tablets) to go after for Cypress, Atmel andSynaptics," said Needham & Co analyst Rajvindra Gill.
While Synaptics leads the market in touchscreen chips,Cypress and Atmel are fast grabbing the attention of originalequipment makers, scoring several design wins lately.
Cypress and Atmel have already snapped up some design winsfor products expected to ship this year, giving themfirst-mover advantage as Synaptics lagged in unveiling itslatest touch solution.
"Cypress is seeing design wins for (non-iPad) tablets thatwill be shipping in the third quarter," said CapstoneInvestments analyst Jeffrey Schreiner.
At least two analysts said BlackBerry maker RIM's upcomingtablet -- likely dubbed the BlackPad and expected to hit themarket in November -- would use touch chips from Cypress.
Dell's Streak, unveiled last month, and Samsung's GalaxyTab, due out this month, use Atmel chips, said Gleacher & Coanalyst Ian Ing.
However, the tech brands are known to use more than asingle supplier for many components, and Jefferies analystBlayne Curtis noted Pixcir designs are also in Dell's Streak.
Apple doesn't reveal its part suppliers, but teardown firmssay the iPad uses chips from Atmel, Broadcom and TexasInstruments.
As touch chipmakers slug it out for a share of the tabletPC pie, their sales pitch will focus on pricing, efficientpower usage and the precision of the touch controller for theslate's larger screens.
"In terms of low-power, Atmel has a great product and, interms of pricing, both Cypress and Atmel are betterpositioned," Curtis said. (Reporting by Mansi Dutta and Manasi Phadke, Editing by IanGeoghegan)