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Why small-fry tablets might goose Windows 8 hybrid sales

Jared Newman | March 6, 2013
Tiny tablets such as the iPad mini and Nexus 7 could have a counterintuitive effect on the PC market: increased hardware sales.

But the laptop hangs on

We've been hearing about the iPad's potential to cannibalize the laptop market ever since Apple debuted the tablet in 2010. But Shim says that notion was always a bit misunderstood. Although it's true that consumers in developing markets might be primed to purchase more tablets instead of full-size notebooks, consumers in mature markets will more likely delay their next laptop purchases--but not give up on laptops entirely.

"The tablet is very complementary because PC buyers, instead of buying a notebook, may delay that purchase until later, and get a tablet instead," Shim says. "But at the end of the day, they're going to get both devices."

Not everyone sees it quite that way. In January, Gartner released a report stating that PC shipments declined during the holiday season, despite the launch of Windows 8. Mikako Kitagawa, a principal analyst for Gartner, said at the time that although families may keep a single desktop or laptop around for creative tasks, most individuals would not own both.

"There will be some individuals who retain both, but we believe they will be the exception and not the norm," Kitagawa wrote. "Therefore, we hypothesize that buyers will not replace secondary PCs in the household, instead allowing them to age out and shifting consumption to a tablet."

The rise of inexpensive tablets, she said, makes the transition even easier. In other words, small and cheap tablets may be accelerating the decline of laptops, not helping to bring them back.

Hybrids have a chance

If there's any hope for a laptop resurgence, it rests on the shoulders of hybrids and convertible devices, particularly those with screens that are larger than the 9.7-inch display in Apple's full-size iPad.

PC makers now see 13-inch devices as a big opportunity, says Rhoda Alexander, IHS's director of tablet and monitor research. It's easier to sell 13-inch devices at higher prices, and they also offer clear, easily distinguished benefits over the new class of tiny tablets, which are so obviously geared toward media consumption rather than productivity.

Still, Alexander isn't sure that consumers will latch on to Windows 8. The value of 13-inch hybrids, she says, is more for businesses that might want a single device that's portable enough for tablet use in the field yet powerful enough for office work. Consumers, Alexander says, aren't married to Windows anymore, and now have a wider range of choices across the whole spectrum of devices.

"From feature phones to smartphones to phablets to media tablets to PC tablets to traditional PCs, there's just tremendous competition in this whole sector," Alexander says.


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