The Tablet Will Overtake the PC Sooner Than You Think

The PC market may be struggling, but the broader computing device market is doing just fine. When factoring in all form factors, Gartner now expects the total market to grow to 2.5 billion units by next year. That would be up from the 2.2 billion devices shipped last year, and the 2.35 billion units expected to get a move on in 2013.

Smartphones and tablets are easily driving all of that growth, as traditional PC form factors are expected to continue a downward trend. As one of the youngest form factors, tablets should put up the impressive growth and soar to 276 million next year. That's a subset of the market that effectively didn't exist at the beginning of 2010 until Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL  ) jump-started the tablet renaissance with the iPad. Mobile computing has become incredibly important in both mature and emerging markets, according to Gartner's Carolina Milanesi.

The ultramobile category -- which includes devices like Google (NASDAQ: GOOGL  ) Chromebooks and Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT  ) Windows 8 convertibles -- is starting to gain traction and may grab sales from premium tablets like the iPad. Windows 8.1 and Intel's newest Bay Trail and Haswell processors will play a large role in this, particularly when considering the dramatic battery life improvements that Intel is delivering this year.

Consumers are also shifting from premium tablets to basic tablets, and the iPad Mini is estimated to have already grabbed 60% of all iOS device sales in the first quarter. That broad shift will put some pressure on average selling prices and margins as the market is flooded with low-cost devices.

On the platform front, Gartner notes that companies face challenges in tapping all form factors. Apple is the most successful in this department, and has a "more homogenous presence across all device segments." Android's strength is concentrated primarily in smartphones, while Windows is still the dominant PC operating system.

Operating System

2014 Unit Forecast

2014 Market Share Forecast

Android

1.06 billion

42%

Windows

378.1 million

15%

iOS/Mac

354.8 million

14%

Source: Gartner.

Smartphones are the volume leader, which will help Android reach an estimated 1.06 billion units next year. However, due to Android's open and fragmented nature, the search giant won't benefit from all of those devices, as many will run distinct Android forks.

If Gartner's forecast turns out accurate, then the tablet will be set to overtake the PC in 2015. Don't say I didn't warn you.

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