Tablet PCs like Apple's iPad are expected to be the growth driver for the mobile PC market over the next few years. Tablet shipments will surpass notebook shipments in 2016, according to the latest NPD DisplaySearch Quarterly Mobile PC Shipment and Forecast Report. Overall mobile PC shipments will grow from 347M units in 2012 to over 809M units by 2017.
"Consumer preference for mobile computing devices is shifting from notebook to tablet PCs, particularly in mature markets," said Richard Shim, senior analyst at NPD DisplaySearch. "While the lines between tablet and notebook PCs are blurring, we expect mature markets to be the primary regions for tablet PC adoption. New entrants are tending to launch their initial products in mature markets. Services and infrastructure needed to create compelling new usage models are often better established in mature markets."
While notebook PC shipments are expected to increase from 208M units in 2012 to 393M units by 2017, tablet PC shipments are expected to grow from 121M units to 416M units in this period, for a compound annual growth rate of 28%. A key driver for tablet PC growth is adoption in mature markets (including North America, Japan and Western Europe), which will account for 66% of shipments in 2012 and remain in the 60% range throughout the forecast period. Tablet PC shipments into mature markets will grow from 80M units in 2012 to 254M units by 2017.
Tablets, Notebooks Meet In The Middle
Building upon convenience-oriented features including instant-on capability, long battery life and extreme portability, tablet PCs are expected to evolve in form factor and performance, making them a compelling alternative to notebook PCs. Tablet PCs are expected to incorporate multi-core processors, increasingly stable operating systems, growing app libraries and higher resolution displays—in short, to become more like notebooks.
But that battle goes both ways, as notebook PCs are evolving to meet the challenge from tablets. Thinner form factors, higher resolution displays and touch functionality features are expected to increase. The notebook PC market will remain the largest part of the mobile PC market during the forecast period, accounting for 60% of mobile PC shipments in 2012, declining to 49% by 2017.
Tablets are downsizing in form factor as well, presumably cannibalizing smartphone use.
NPD DisplaySearch analyst Richard Shim told CNet that Apple is deep into production planning for its “iPad Mini,” with a 7.85-inch panel—a bit larger than, for example, a Nook or Kindle—with a pricetag of about $299. CNet’s Brooke Crothers wonders if it is necessary, given the mini-tab offerings like Samsung;s 7-inch Galaxy Tab and the $199 Google Nexus 7, which took an Editor's Choice rating from CNET Reviews.
The Pluses And Minuses Of Mini Tabs
What mini tablets can achieve, which tablets have yet to do, is become a shopping tool. Mini tablets will not of course have phone capabilities, but they have all the app power of a smart phone, and apps are key to in-store conversions.
A Deloitte study on mobile shopping found that smartphones are key to the in-store shopping experience, while tablet use is negligible. For example, 37% of smartphone owners who used a smartphone on their last shopping trip used a 3rd-party mobile shopping application, and 34% used a retailer’s dedicated app—practically none reported using a tablet. Time will tell, but the smaller form factor can only increase the possibility that a shopper will tuck a tablet into a purse or large coat pocket and use it on the go.
On the down side, 7” is a miserable little screen for advertising, hence the emphasis by the Interactive Advertisers Bureau, Google and PointRoll among others on “viewable ad impressions.” With on-screen real estate shrinking, advertisers will find themselves paying hefty premiums for visibility, while apps become a standard among ad units.