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Shipments of tablets will outpace traditional laptops as soon as this year, said NPD. Shipments of touch-based machines are expected to grow 67% year-over-year, reaching 256.5 million this year and 579.4 million by 2017. At the same time, shipments of notebooks are expected to shrink 10% between 2013 and 2017, from 203.3 million to 183.3 million.
By 2017, tablets will outsell notebooks three to one, with shipments of 579 million tablets compared to 183 million notebooks.
"The mobile PC industry is undergoing significant change this year," said NPD DisplaySearch senior analyst Richard Shim. "The rapid rise and establishment of white-box tablet PCs (tablets made by small local brands, mainly in China) is putting pressure on traditional notebook PCs. These low-cost tablets are reaching further into emerging regions where notebook PC penetration rates have remained low, resulting in cannibalization by tablet PCs."
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One glimmer of hope for notebook makers is the modest increase in interest in touch-based models. Shipments of such devices are expected to climb as much as 48% in 2014 alone, thanks to new Windows 8 Ultrabooks. But PC makers need to drop the tried-and-true clamshell form factor and instead branch out with new designs. Developers need to do their part, too, and get some touch-based Win8 apps in the market.
"Thus far, Windows 8 has had a limited impact on driving touch adoption in notebook PCs, due to a lack of applications needing touch and the high cost of touch on notebook PCs," said Shim. "Form factors aimed at differentiation from standard clamshell notebooks will help to drive consumer adoption of touch-enabled notebook PCs, starting in the second half of 2013."
Tablets will continue to be a thorn in the collective sides of PC makers, if not put their businesses in the toilet entirely. Tablets may not be as powerful or as feature-rich as notebooks running full desktop operating systems, but for many, tablets represent good-enough computing. The combination of portability and just the right mix of features (email, web browsers, touch-based apps and Wi-Fi/4G wireless) make tablets an attractive alternative to larger, bulkier notebooks.
Pricing is the other big issue. Apple put a lot of pressure on PC makers with the iPad, which costs $329 for the Mini and $499 for the full-sized model. Google's partners one-upped even Apple. Professionals and consumers alike can pick up solid Android tablets for as little as $199. Notebooks, especially those that incorporate touch, can't compete with price points that low.
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