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Tablets' growth increasing pressure on PCs

This year will be an interesting one for personal computing, with tablets outpacing notebook PCs, thanks in part to the growing popularity of touch-based devices, according to stats from NPD Group.

Mobile PC shipments will grow from 367.6 million in 2012 to 762.7 million by 2017, driven by touch-enabled form factors, the analyst firm said in its latest PC shipment forecast. Tablet shipments will jump 67 per cent this year alone to 256.5 million, while notebook PC shipments will likely drop 10 per cent over the next four years.

"The mobile PC industry is undergoing significant change this year," Richard Shim, a senior analyst with NPD DisplaySearch, said in a statement. "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 cannibalisation by tablet PCs."

White-box tablets made up one-third of tablet shipments in 2012, a number they are expected to maintain in the next few years, NPD said.

A bright spot for notebook PCs are those with touch capabilities, shipments of which will grow 48 per cent year over year in 2014, NPD said. Those features will largely be seen in ultrabooks, the MacBook Air, and other slim notebooks. Premium, ultra-slim notebooks will make up about two-thirds of touch-enabled notebooks this year, NPD said. That will grow to 80 per cent by 2017.

Intel's move to require touch in its third-generation, Haswell-based ultrabooks "will also help adoption," NPD said.

What hasn't helped adoption is Microsoft's Windows 8 platform. "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," Shim said. "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."

That includes hybrids, sliders, and convertibles.

Last month, Gartner found that worldwide shipments of PCs, tablets, and mobile phones are expected to total 2.4 billion units in 2013, a 9 per cent increase from last year. Shipments of these devices are forecast to grow even further by 2017 to reach more than 2.9 billion units. But over the next few years, the mix of these devices will "significantly change," as consumers increasingly choose tablets over PCs, the research firm said.

Despite such forecasts, meanwhile, BlackBerry CEO Thorsten Heins made headlines recently when he suggested that tablets will be a thing of the past in the next five years.