More screen sizes will help drive tablets past notebooks this year

Credit: Rochelle, just rochelle via Flickr

Tablet shipments are expected to surpass laptop shipments for the first time this year, according to market research firm NPD, and more CIOs have plans to buy tablets for workers, signaling a turning point for tablets in 2013.

NPD reported that it anticipates tablet shipments of 240 million units this year compared to 207 million units of notebooks. That's a significant change in expectations from NPD, which as recently as six months ago predicted that milestone wouldn't be reached until 2016.

Why the dramatic change? It's no longer a one-horse race. "In a market that has been dominated by one major player, Apple, shifting market dynamics are creating the opportunity for a greater variety of choices, which will drive shipment growth in 2013 to 64% Y/Y," NPD wrote in a press release about its research.

Researchers there credit the variety of screen sizes for allowing new competitors to grab market share. They predict that the larger tablets, like the 9.7-inch iPad, will only make up 17 percent of shipments in 2013, with the smaller, 7-inch to 8-inch tablets accounting for 45 percent of shipments. Plus, NPD expects an increasing variety of screen sizes to hit the market. In 2011 it tracked six different sizes but anticipates at least a dozen sizes to be available by 2017.

NPD also credits unconventional business models – presumably a reference to Amazon's emphasis on book sales over hardware sales to fuel its Kindle ecosystem – for driving tablet shipments.

Enterprise sales – not only BYOD – may also drive more tablet shipments this year. According to AppleInsider, a small Piper Jaffray survey of CIOs found that nearly 60 percent of respondents said they plan to increase tablet deployments in 2013, up from 46 percent last year. A mere 37 percent said they plan to increase PC deployments. On the other hand, the number of CIOs who expect to make "broad deployments" of tablets was pretty low, at 15 percent, up from 4 percent last year. Forty-two percent said they have no deployment plans, compared to 54 percent last year.

Piper Jaffray suggests that the good old 9.7-inch iPad, rather than the iPad Mini, will be most popular model for enterprise deployments. While that seems to contradict NPD's prediction of increasing screen variety, in a market that's just leaped three years ahead of schedule, there's room for all shapes and sizes.

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