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Summary:

Forrester expects that 1 in 4 PC sales will be tablets by 2015. I agree for three reasons, but sales numbers could be even higher for tablets. The time of all-day computing in just a few apps is over. Welcome to the days of task-based tablets.

Tablet computers will account for 23 percent of all PC sales by 2015, according to a Forrester Research report out today. Desktop sales will continue to decline, much as they have for the past several years due to the rise of laptops and netbooks. But netbooks — which not too long ago showed a year-over-year growth rate of 641 percent — are also expected to fall behind tablet sales, starting as early as 2012. I agree with Forrester’s forecast, for a number of reasons.

Tablets Are Now Designed for Mobile Use

Having been around since before the turn of the century, slate computers aren’t new. But recent attempts were desktop-centric in terms of interface and design, requiring software shells for better usability. Trying to fit a desktop environment into mobile device has failed time and again, as the user experience doesn’t match the form factor — on a smaller touchscreen, apps must be optimized for size and be finger-friendly, for example. With the quickly maturing iOS4 and Android platforms now available, however, current and future tablets are actually usable by anyone — even a cat.

Low-Powered, High Performing Chips Are Available

Most tablets prior to the popular Apple iPad were based on x86 technology from Intel and the Windows OS, which only served to exacerbate the desktop environment issue. And it caused short run-times — my first 7-inch tablet, a Samsung Q1 from 2006 that I repeatedly upgraded, was lucky to run for 3.5 hours on a charge. That’s changed recently thanks to ARM-powered chips like Qualcomm’s Snapdragon and Apple’s own A4, the engine behind the iPad. And Intel has made great strides to reduce power consumption, so between now and 2015 we’ll see even better chip options for tablets, such as a dual-core Snapdragon CPU.

We’re Shifting to Task-Based Computing

As little as five years ago, many of us sat in front of a desktop or a laptop and stayed in the same applications all day long: perhaps a productivity suite, undoubtedly an email client and occasionally, a web browser. That mindset has changed dramatically and will continue to do so over the next few years. Today it’s all about mobile apps that handle bite-sized chunks of specific functionality — Apple alone has delivered more than 3 billion app downloads from its iTunes store. A tablet is well-suited to quick hits of functionality at various times.

Does all of this mean gloom and doom for traditional computing? No, I’m not suggesting that the desktop or laptop paradigm is going away, and neither is Forrester. In my lifetime, I expect there will always be specific use cases in which a traditional computer with mouse and keyboard are the best tool for the task. But with a tablet it’s just you interacting with your data, one little app at a time. More and more, that’s all a user really wants.

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  1. You make sense, but I think the ultimate reason tablets may increase sales is because people are realizing how convenient they are. The “tablet revolution” isn’t like the PC or smartphone took revolution; tablets juts offer a new form factor.

    It’s not like you can do amazing things on a tablet that you can’t do anywhere else. The PC brought word processing, GUIs, (eventually) Internet access, etc. Smartphones allowed users to work with advanced apps, access the REAL internet, and have email and calendaring capabilities that were once exclusive to the desktop.

    But with tablets, there isn’t anything SIGNIFICANT that can be done that can’t be done on a full fledged computer or smartphone. Sure you can play some games that take advantage of touch and the big screen well, but there isn’t a killer functionality exclusive to the tablet. But they offer an attractive, convenient, user friendly form factor. The biggest factor that will launch tablets into the mainstream is if that form factor is attractive, convenient, or user friendly enough. Because, with no killer functionality, that’s what they offer.

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    1. Agreed on all points, Zach. I think the reasons I outlined contribute to the convenience item you point out. Bear in mind that I’ve been using Tablet PCs since 2004 and it’s only recently that I can say they’re “convenient,” mainly for the reasons listed in my post.

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      1. Yes, but there’s a HUGE difference between a “tablet” and a “tablet PC.” I own a tablet PC for school, and I can say it doesn’t have the convenience of a “tablet;” I see it more as a computer with pen functionality, which is totally different than what “tablets” are nowadays. But you’re right, aforementioned developments are making “tablets” much more attractive.

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  2. [...] says that Tablets will replace some computers in the near future, and most of iPad fans really believe it. But I’m not. Ok, the touchscreen [...]

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  3. Kevin Krewell Thursday, June 17, 2010

    Just to point out a couple of things:
    1. The Forrester projection is for U.S. market only.
    2. NVIDIA has a dual-core ARM Cortex A9 processor called Tegra, available now.

    Bonus item: Desktop volumes aren’t actually shrinking WW, just not growing, therefore decrease as a percentage of the market. Products like the Mac Mini and the all-in-ones keep the category alive.
    Kevin

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    1. Good clarifications that help put this trend in perspective. One additional one: the dual-core Tegra 2 may be available now, but tablets that use them aren’t currently out yet and aren’t expected until the third quarter at the earliest last I checked.

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      1. Kevin Krewell Thursday, June 17, 2010

        True, the Tegra tablets aren’t here yet, but Q3 2010 is a lot sooner than 2015. This category is just getting started – it’s going to get interesting.

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    2. Speaking of desktop sales statistics not looking all that great, I have a feeling that a significant amount of desktop sales are not included in the data.

      I don’t mean all those Dell/HP/Gateway/Acer/Apple/etc. boxes the average user would buy.

      I mean the enthusiast custom-built towers. Systems that aren’t sold whole to begin with, but generally a separate case, separate PSU, separate motherboard, CPU, RAM, GPU, HDD, OS, and so on, all combined by the buyer into a working system that outperforms any pre-built desktop at the same price or higher if the component choices are good, let alone any notebook at twice the price or a tablet at three to five times the price, simply because games and demanding professional applications need the extra raw power only these desktops can deliver.

      Because of how they are sold, I can’t really see them being reflected in computer sales statistics.

      Yet because of the kind of people who would purchase and create such systems to begin with, I also question just how much the statistics would be influenced. Even the lowly netbook is overkill for the average user’s needs, and in the case of gaming, the average user tends to settle for a console.

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  4. Tablets (thanks to their relative low price points and high processing power) will venture in to areas previously cornered by specialized – and very pricey – devices.
    Areas such as marine navigation (an iPad makes a great chart plotter), inventory tracking, or possibly even health care.
    Companies will take these mass produced tablets, and provide for low cost custom enclosures, opening up brand new markets by means of lower overall solution costs.

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  5. the stat is completely misleading or the definitions used are very liberal. what forrester did was just add what they thought media slates would do to the PC market forecast…thus, making the pie bigger and adding their media slate slice to it. media slates won’t take 1/4 of PC sales away by 2015. to think so just is too simplistic. media slate owners will very likely own a PC as well…just like they own other CE devices that they believe make their lives easier or more enjoyable. By this definition, Forrester should have added the 240M smartphones that will be sold this year to the total pie then too. Kinda puts the 6-8M or so media slates that some forecast for 2010 into perspective. its like saying that portable dvd players are eating away at the TV and DVD market. how silly is that? this doesn’t make the iPad or iPad like products losers, its just different. i would bet cash money that you aren’t giving up your laptop for the iPad/media slate type product any time soon. no one i know will. now to your points:

    1. media slates are designed for mobility but again so are notebooks. and there are really thin and light notebooks these days so the differences aren’t that huge. i would actually argue that notebooks do a better job at mobile usage than media slates. sure, if you just want to play a simple game and check some headlines, the iPad will do perfectly fine. but in a day to day situation, our research has found year after year that there are 2 mobile CE devices that consumers view as personal necessities: mobile phones and laptops…and this is by a mile. i’ve been to a few tech conf since the iPad launch and to witness some folks hunched over or watching them pull out a bunch of accessories and setting up trying to take notes on it is humorous…especially when i sit down at the same table and lift my laptop lid and power on. media slates are additive to the consumer mobile life like digital cameras, portable gaming systems, iPods, etc. not in lieu of laptops or PCs.

    2. I agree with your #2 but that doesn’t affect anything that was said in #1. when you need computing power or the capabilities to have a 2 way session with your data, files, information, entertainment, etc. its going to be on something like a PC.

    3. I’d actually argue against this. true task based computing already happened. its when desktops dominated the PC market. that was when you had a list of things to do on your computer, set aside some time to do it, did it, and then left. the rise of notebooks allowed you to move away from task based computing where we are today. computing is actually no longer task based as much as its integrated into your life. you can’t tell me that killing time on whatever mobile platform is truly task based. sure i get that maybe you mean playing that game in a silo. thats not task based computing. that’s lifestyle. you are out at starbucks sipping your $7 coffee enjoying your afternoon chatting online with friends, then going to your mom’s and showing her your latest vacation pics, then going home and vegging out in front of your TV surfing the web…something that you could not do in the true task based computing paradigm that was the desktop dominated PC market. I’d argue that we are going FROM task based to lifestyle based and that was due to mobility and flexibility of the laptop PC.

    media slates are additive like phones and ipods are. slates will do well but not at the cost of PCs.

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  6. in pure volume, there are more PC’s selling today than ever (1m+/day) regardless of marketshare, so MS has nothing to worry about for now. i love the slate form factor but i have to admit now that its gone mainstream its highly overrated. lets wait until the initial Apple sales surge is over & the bust begins as it always does, then REforcast how all of this will go.

    so much hype, so little substance anymore. it feels like computing is becoming the new kid thing to do.

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  7. Note that this is only US sales and that the sales numbers can actually increase while the % of market share decreases. (17% of 500M is more than 18% of 350M for example)

    In countries where practicality rules and where money is tighter, the figures won’t be anything like this.
    In Eastern Europe the netbook is becoming the only PC people have. In Western Europe, people are taking a more pragmatic approach to tablets. In India, China, many parts of Africa, users need to justify a PC for business purposes and the only one that makes sense is the traditional PC in clamshell format.

    Tablets will come, possibly, but no-one needs to worry as the pie appears to be getting bigger.

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  8. FAIL. I’m very skeptical of those figures, especially that 2015 number – did the head honchos dismiss the difference between content creation and content consumption? Did they merge consumer and business markets now? Who funded the research? What about the rest of the world?

    Reports like these serve no real use for they are lacking in so much detail. It is impossible to address future technology impacts, as I’m sure that report – had it been done before the iPad release – would paint a different picture. FWIW, I could have said the same thing in 2008 in favor of netbooks!

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    1. Three words for your tired “consumption vs. creation” argument: iMovie on iPhone.

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  9. I think Forrester has the desktop/laptop situation exactly backwards, and that the laptop market has probably peaked, or will shortly. Not only will tablet sales become a huge chunk of the pie, but they will end up doing this at the expense of, particularly, netbooks, and also laptops. However, I don’t think this means people will all be buying tablets instead of traditional computers, although some will. What they will do is buy a tablet and a desktop, instead of a laptop, for the same price, giving them the advantages of a desktop for their main computer, and the ultra-portability of a tablet for travel and casual computing.

    Most people who buy laptops today, don’t really need laptops, but it’s trendy, and it does allow them to take it with them on trips. But for the actual portable uses they put the laptop to, they will be much better served by a tablet without the hassle of hauling around a larger, heavier laptop. And, with larger screens and faster hardware, they’ll be more productive on their desktops.

    College students may remain exceptions to this, due to space constraints of dorm rooms, where fitting in a laptop is a lot easier, but they’re also a demographic that will likely be wanting tablets, and most of them can’t afford two portable devices, so smaller desktops like Mac Minis or 21″ iMacs might fit their wants better as well.

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    1. i couldn’t disagree more. pay attention on what you actually do with a laptop PC. my guess is that you do a lot more on it than you recall when posting this. even if you keep it simple with email and chatting/IM and web surfing, i would contend that you’re experience is not only much richer (larger display on laptops), easier (ergonomically better than flat lying or holding it in one hand), and far more comprehensive (physical keyboard/mouse vs virtual). my guess is that you posted with a PC and not iPad. why do i guess that? its longer than a few sentences. can you seriously say you would draft detailed emails that outline, say, your 5 year business plan on your iPad? could you or would you always wait until you can get back to your home to do this? your analysis assumes that people’s lives are discretely separated between fun and work at all times. All signs point to the opposite that work and personal are merging and integrating into ones lives…for better or worse. desktops will be regulated to the corporate environments (where it doesn’t make sense for companies to buy employees laptops) and communal home or public PCs. everyone else will get laptops and other mobile devices to meet their lifestyle. iPad type products won’t be that primary device however…it will be secondary.

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    2. This is basically the approach I have taken, except for that my laptop is my tablet and my tablet is my laptop. By that, I mean a convertible Tablet PC.

      This one’s not a total slouch (Gateway E-295C, Core 2 Duo T9300 2.5 GHz, 2 GB DDR2-667, ATI X2300), though at 14″ and over 6.5 lbs., I’m starting to miss the old HP TC1100 somewhat. Not as convenient to use as a slate-it’s now more of a mobile workstation with an integrated Wacom Cintiq.

      I still need a good custom-built desktop, though. Running PC games is intensive, developing them even moreso. And, yes, I am a college student, albeit one who isn’t blowing money on a dormitory or apartment room since tuition is expensive enough. If I did, I’d still find a way to fit my full-tower ATX case, 21″ CRT monitor, and other bulky accessories in there.

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  10. Overall a good article. Two problems

    1) Forrester must be doing their analysis under a rock if their saying the tablet market will amount to just 3.5 million in 2010, knowing Apple sold 1 million in the U.S. In April with a good chunk of the second million also in the U.S. in May. If they can’t get this year’s forecast right in the face of hard sales data then it throws into question the rest of their forecast

    2) Jobs announced FIVE BILLION app downloads at WWDC. Disheartening that basic facts are incorrect weeks after the news has been out. I hope you correct because pro journalists shouldn’t be making factual errors like this. I don’t understand how you could have linked to a story from all the way back in January, either, without checking for a more recent figure. Sorry to be harsh but journalism has to have standards.

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    1. Lava, I can’t argue with your comment about the number of downloads. I was actually covering WWDC when the announcement was made but it was a frantic day — I was trying to write as fast as Jobs was speaking. ;)

      Still, you’re spot on and I’ll get an update in the post to reflect the 5 billion download number. Given the growth from 3b to 5b between January and June, it actually reflects how much impact the iPad has had, and is well worth noting. Thanks for the feedback.

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