Today, In-Stat predicted that the global tablet market will reach 250 million shipments by 2017. It’s a seemingly big number, but its real significance is bigger: How much will tablets displace PC sales?



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Right now the global install base of PCs is about 1 billion units. Shipments have been above 300 million PCs per year, but they’re way down in mature markets, still strong in some emerging markets and losing sales to tablets, according to both Gartner and IDC. Is there market sustainable enough for 300 million PCs and 250 million tablets? I’m the wrong person to answer, having already proclaimed — to the chagrin of many Betanews commenters — that the “PC era is over.”

The synopsis to In-Stat’s report — “The Reality and Ramifications of Tablets” — focuses more on how consumer electronics devices are impacted. In-Stat sent me data sheets with no data, but questions and other info that let me see the report doesn’t take the PC into the equation.

It is the PC that will matter more to many Betanews readers managing IT departments.
Two months ago, I asked: “Are tablets a fad?”. In-Stat’s data surely suggests otherwise. Then there are Gartner and IDC, which, respectively, forecast 69.8 million and 53.5 million this year.

Much depends on overlap. How much can tablets replace PCs? Many of our readers don’t see that happening. Maybe, but Windows 8 is coming, and I’m expecting a juicy developer beta to drop during next month’s BUILD conference. Microsoft is clearly targeting Windows 8 for tablets as well as desktop and portable PCs — and it’s what analyst firms Gartner and IDC consider a “full” OS rather than a mobile.

In context of Microsoft entering the tablet market in a big-OS way and with its core market being businesses, there’s good reason to rethink the PC’s future — not just in the hands of Apple or Android tablets but Microsoft leading businesses down a hybrid path. Whatever, tablets are maturing fast and the overlap with PC functionally can only get greater (with Windows 8 part of that equation).

I don’t see enough room for both tablets and PCs in 2017. Something has to give. Either tablets must cannibalize PC sales or a hybrid product emerges, something that absolutely could happen in a post-Windows 7 world, with Windows 8 driving new form factors. That 250 million is a mighty big number. But many analysts made big predictions about netbooks, which sales have collapsed before tablets. It may be that Microsoft and its hardware partners can similarly upset the current tablet market with Windows 8. If not, we have a date, or thereabouts, for PC’s obsolescence: 2017.

In the here and now, In-Stat sees tablets encroaching on consumer electronics devices. “The tablet market and its associated ecosystem are still evolving. Over the next few generations we will see more differentiation between devices that are targeting different market segments and usage models. In addition, competitive device and service pricing will bring tablets into the mainstream consumer and enterprise markets”, Jim McGregor, In-Stat chief technology strategist, says in a statement.

“Tablets are joining an array of smart-connected devices that allow users almost unlimited access to content and communications”, he continues. “These new devices mark a significant change in the value change of the electronics industry where the content and applications are now the key differentiators and innovation drivers”.

In-Stat sees Android and iOS coming to dominate 90 percent of the tablet market during the forecast period, with Windows pulling up the rear. Tablets 9 inches to 11 inches will make up 56 percent of the total tablet market in 2017.