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Report: Tablets To Grab Market Share over Netbooks

Tablet handheld computers will begin to outsell netbooks in two years in the United States, according to Forrester Research.

The Massachusetts-based research firm classifies tablets as a "form of personal computer," even though the definition is sometimes considered up for debate by the industry. By 2014, consumers predominantly will use tablets over netbooks. In 2015, Forrester predicted, tablets will constitute 23 percent of PC unit sales.

According to Forrester's report, "The US Consumer PC Market In 2015," published last month, PC sales will reach nearly 500 million units in the United States between 2010 and 2015. Forrester lumped PCs into four categories: traditional desktops, netbooks, notebooks, and tablets. However, tablets represent the fastest growing category, according to the report. Tablet sales will grow from 3.5 million units in 2010 to more than 20 million units in 2015.

In 2015, Forester projected, notebooks will have 42 percent of the market, while tablets will have 23 percent, followed by desktops at 18 percent and netbooks at 17 percent.

Forrester's announcement noted that vendors will need to capitalize on this trend with "chipsets, displays, accessories and content that anticipate the growth of tablets and the continued relevance of traditional PCs." Forrester said it doesn't see desktops disappearing soon.

"I wouldn't characterize it as a move away from desktops," said Sarah Rotman Epps, author of the report and research analyst at Forrester, in an e-mail. "It's true that in 2015, U.S. consumers will buy fewer desktops than they do today (15.7 [million] in 2015 [versus] 18.7 [million] in 2010), but more consumers will own desktops (158 [million]) than any other form factor. Slowing sales of desktops can be attributed to market saturation rather than lack of interest."

In a blog post this week, Epps said that interested parties ("even those not in direct competition with Apple") should keep a close eye on the adoption of Apple's iPad. She said Apple is claiming that 50 percent of Fortune 500 companies around the world are "deploying or piloting" the iPad. She noted in an e-mail that they are probably doing it on a small scale for CEOs, board members, and execs.

Consumers were not looking for iPad features before the device was introduced into the market, Epps noted in her report. The top features that consumers value in a PC are a complete mismatch with iPad offerings.

"Top [consumer] features included webcam, CD drive and burner, and DVD drive and burner," said Epps in an e-mail. "Through advertising and devoting in-store real estate to a hands-on iPad experience, Apple has successfully educated consumers about this new product."

One of the reasons tablet sales will expand over netbook sales is that netbooks aren't able to "synchronize data across services like iPad does," Epps said.

Apple has continued to describe healthy sales results with the iPad. In an earnings announcement this week, Apple said it sold 3.7 million iPads in the quarter ending June 26. The company estimated it would ship about 270,000 units per week in this quarter. Apple's numbers, according to Epps, are global, representing about 19 countries worldwide and include both consumer and enterprise deployments.

Epps said that there's still an opportunity to market desktops in the consumer market as complementary to tablets for the multi-PC consumer because consumers will still need the processing power of a desktop to power the multimedia lifestyle.

"We'll see continued interest in space-saving all-in-ones, special-purpose PCs like the Mac Mini for the living room stereo stack, and new uses for desktops like 3D PCs for gaming and 3D photo and video editing," Epps said.

She noted in her blog that this initial forecast was conservative and that an update will be published later this year.

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