2013 is shaping up to be another banner year for tablet makers.
In a sign that both consumers and enterprises are smitten by the iPad and its ilk, Gartner is forecasting that worldwide shipments are expected to reach 197 million units this year. For comparison's sake, tablet shipments totaled 116 million units in 2012, meaning that companies like Apple and Samsung will be pumping out 69.8 percent more computing slates before the current year is over.
By 2017, tablets will out-ship desktop and notebook PCs by a huge margin. The research firm expects tablets shipments to reach 467.9 million units versus 271.6 million units for PCs.
Such strong demand can be attributed to new, more affordable hardware and the unstoppable popularity of apps, says Gartner Ranjit Atwal. "Lower prices, form factor variety, cloud update and consumers' addiction to apps will be the key drivers in the tablet market," he said in a statement.
Emerging markets are also doing their part in turning tablets into the personal computing gadget of choice. "Users in emerging markets who are looking for a companion to their mobile phone will increasingly choose a tablet as their first computing device and not a PC," informed Atwal.
The tablet market's gains will come at the cost of traditional PCs.
Gartner forecasts that desktop and notebook PCs shipments will drop from 341.2 million units in 2012 to 271.6 by 2017. But demand for "ultramobiles" will soften the blow. "Beginning in 2013, ultramobiles will help offset this decline, so that sales of traditional PCs and ultramobiles combined show a 3.5 percent decline in 2013," said Gartner.
Gartner's data suggest that consumers and many business users are getting off the PC upgrade treadmill. Gartner research vice president Carolina Milanesi remarked, "While there will be some individuals who retain both a personal PC and a tablet, especially those who use either or both for work and play, most will be satisfied with the experience they get from a tablet as their main computing device."
"As consumers shift their time away from their PC to tablets and smartphones, they will no longer see their PC as a device that they need to replace on a regular basis," concluded Milanesi.
Beyond shifting IT consumption patterns, the group's forecast also hints at deeper ramifications for the industry.
"The trend towards smartphones and tablets will have much wider implications than hardware displacement. Software and chipset architecture are also impacted by this shift as consumers embrace apps and personal cloud," predicted Milanesi.