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Demand for ultra-slim PCs could soar

Sales of ultra-slim PCs like Apple's MacBook Air and devices that fall into Intel's ultrabook classification are expected to grow exponentially in the coming years, according to new data from NPD DisplaySearch.

The market research firm projected that shipments of ultra-slim PCs will grow from 3.4 million in 2011 to a 65 million by 2015. By then, ultra-slim PCs will account for a quarter of all mobile PC shipments. The forecast strongly contradicts suggestions from IHS iSuppli that ultrabook sales would struggle.

NPD defines ultra-slim PCs as notebooks with screen sizes greater than 14in that are less than 21mm thick, while notebooks with a screen size less than 14in must be less than 18mm thick. The category includes ultrabooks as well as Apple's MacBook and MacBook Pro with Retina display.

Adoption of ultra-slim PCs has been quite low to date, largely due to the high cost of such devices and a "lack of differentiation from standard notebooks," NPD said. But adoption is expected to ramp up as prices slowly drop and new processors allow for more convenient computing.

When looking to buy a mobile PC, consumers today aren't just looking for the device with the best performance, NPD said. Increasingly, buyers are more concerned with convenience, seeking out devices that allow for easy access to content.

Consequently, demand for notebooks is slowing as tablet adoption ramps up. Tablet PC shipments are expected to exceed notebooks by 2016.

"Tablet PCs have offered consumers what they have been requesting from the notebook market for years, instant-on activation, long battery life, and sleeker designs," Richard Shim, senior analyst with NPD DisplaySearch, said in a statement. "These attributes are the basis for enabling greater and easier accessibility to content and services. Ultra-slim PCs are the notebook market's response to tablets and aim to balance performance and convenience."