Tablets to Dominate 'PC' Sales, Low End of Market Increasingly Cluttered

According to a new forecast by NPD, tablets and touch-screen laptops (tablet-PC hybrids) will dominate the computing landscape in the coming years. More conventional PCs will be in the minority. 

Tablets are a new device category really. But let's put aside the longer debate about whether or not tablets should be considered "PCs" at all. There will be more "mobile devices" than traditional PCs (including laptops) sold in the next five years.

At best forecasts can show the direction of the market. But in this case the market's direction is clear. 

Global Mobile PC Shipments, 2012-2017

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Source: NPD

Last week Acer introduced a 7-inch tablet for $169, besting the aggressive pricing of Nexus 7 and comparable Kindle Fire devices. According to one rumor the next Nexus 7 will be priced at $149. But you can already buy a 7-inch Lenovo tablet for $129 on Amazon (quality is another question). The race is on for a "decent" Android tablet starting at $99. I suspect that will come in Q4 this year or very early next.

I was recently in Best Buy and Office Depot/Max and saw the displays of tablets; there are scores of them. It will be challenging for consumers to differentiate them -- especially at the lower end of the market. There will probably be three or four broad consumer criteria for tablets: OS/brand, price, size, specs like memory or battery life. 

With the exception of Kindle, Samsung and maybe one or two others the Android tablet universe is a sea of no-name devices. Here the battle will largely be about price. Apple iPads will stand apart because of strong brand identity. However a majority consumers will be price sensitive and likely to simply go after the cheapest "decent" (Android) tablet they find. Indeed, the devices are getting so cheap they're almost disposable. 

NPD says "Windows 8 are unlikely to be a major driver of touch adoption." I agree, as presently configured, Microsoft is unlikely to sell many stand-alone tablet devices. Surface Pro tablet-PC hybrids will sell to enterprise customers but Microsoft will struggle to sell basic tablets to consumers unless it reaches that $100 threshold first.