Tablets have been eating away at laptop and desktop market share for years, and now they're poised to dominate the PC market.
Research firm Canalys this week predicted that tablets will nearly outship all other PC form factors combined next year, accounting for almost 50 per cent of the PC market, which also includes desktops and notebooks.
Tablets accounted for 40 per cent of PC shipments in the third quarter of 2013, less than half a million units behind global notebook shipments. The overall worldwide PC market grew 18 per cent in Q3, even as desktop and notebook shipments continued their downward slide.
"Tablet domination is set to continue, with Canalys forecasting 285 million units to ship in 2014, growing to 396 million units in 2017," the research firm said. Rivals Apple and Samsung are expected to lead the market, but will face greater competition from other vendors.
Apple held top spot in the tablet market throughout 2013, and the launch of the iPad Air and new iPad mini will strengthen its position in the fourth quarter, Canalys predicted. Apple's desktop and notebook business has "remained stable" while other vendors have seen shipments fall.
Android operating systems are expected to drive growth in the market and take a 65 per cent share in 2014 with 185 million units. Samsung held onto its lead with 27 per cent of Android tablet shipments in the third quarter. But Samsung is facing increased pressure from other tablet vendors, including Acer, Asus, Lenovo, and HP, which have all "entered the price war" with cheap devices.
Meanwhile, Microsoft is expected to grab five per cent of the tablet PC market in 2014, up from two per cent in 2012. To improve is position, Microsoft needs to streamline its mobile offerings, according to Canalys Research Analyst Pin Chen Tang.
"A critical first step is to address the coexistence of Windows Phone and Windows RT," Chen Tang said in a statement. "Having three different operating systems to address the smart device landscape is confusing to both developers and consumers alike."
It seems that Microsoft agrees. "I think we didn't differentiate the devices well enough," Microsoft's head of hardware, Julie Larson-Green, said recently about RT vs. Pro devices. "They looked similar. Using them is similar. It just didn't do everything that you expected Windows to do. So there's been a lot of talk about it should have been a have been a rebranding. We should not have called it Windows."
Going into 2014, Canalys predicted "another major shift for [Microsoft] as the Nokia acquisition brings it a step closer to being a fully-fledged smart mobile device vendor."
The firm also predicted "a flurry of acquisitions, mergers, and failures" in 2014 as PC markets struggle to maintain their desktop and notebook business while capitalising on the tablet craze.