Why laptop makers should be focusing on tablets now

Laptop makers not focused on producing attractive tablets may want to re-evaluate that strategy. According to an IDC report on Monday, tablets will begin to outsell portable PCs in 2015. This forecast further emphasizes the massive shift toward mobile, which has been underway for several years: Smartphones began outselling PCs last year and will easily continue to do so as consumers and enterprises do more computing on the go.

This is why the traditional computer makers, and Microsoft(s msft) now that it sells its own Surface slate, should focus more efforts on tablet design and optimization. The desktop PC market hasn’t gone away, but the growth in it has. IDC’s forecast suggests that the same will happen in the laptop market, which will be usurped by tablets. Many PC makers were either late to the mobile device game, or not part of it at all, and have watched sales dollars filter to those making smartphones at first, and now tablets.

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Of course, the unit revenue for mobile devices may be less than that of a desktop or laptop. IDC says the entire industry will see average sales price of devices “drop from $534 in 2011 to $378 in 2016.” That means computer makers will have to make up the difference in volume and the best chance to do that is by seizing momentum early, much as Apple(s aapl) did with its iPad.

Although it’s difficult to look forward several years in the device market, I believe that IDC’s general prediction is correct. In my opinion, it may be too conservative. Yes, desktops and laptops are still heavily in use, but that’s mainly because they support a legacy model of computing and will need to do so for some time to come. That model is changing.

Additionally, tablet hardware is improving quickly, and perhaps more importantly, so are the applications that run on tablets. Activities that once sounded absurd on a tablet just two or three years ago are now possible on an iPad, Android(s goog) slate or Windows RT device. Instead of looking back at “old-school computing,” laptop makers should be looking ahead at potential software and cloud services that tablets will benefit from.