The tablet PC category is growing in importance with 72.7 million units shipped in 2011, accounting for more than a quarter of total mobile PC shipments last year, according to NPD DisplaySearch.
The research firm released its quarterly mobile PC shipment and forecast study late-Wednesday, stating that the year-on-year shipment growth rate for tablets in 2011 was estimated to reach 256 percent, resulting in the 72.7 million unit shipment. This growth was driven by "vigorous demand", the introduction of significantly competitive new devices in the fourth quarter of last year and additional distributional channels, it noted.
Tablet shipments also represented 25.5 percent of the overall mobile PC shipments for 2011, which was projected to reach 285.4 million units or 31 percent growth from the same time last year, the study noted.
"In the short term, tablet PCs will be the growth accelerant in the overall mobile PC market, as macroeconomic factors and hard drive motor supply issues impact the market for notebook PCs," said Richard Shim, senior analyst at NPD DisplaySearch.
Notebook shipment, on the other hand, was projected to reach 187.5 million units with a year-on-year growth rate of 12 percent. This was slightly less than the previous forecast of 188 million, the study stated. However, Shim expects notebook shipments to rebound in the long run. "In the longer term, notebook PC shipments will bounce back as ASPs (average selling price) continue to decline, Windows 8 launches, and new form factors, such as ultrabooks, continue to emerge," he said.
Gazing into the crystal ball, NPD DisplaySearch is also forecasting that notebook PC shipments will reach 432 million units, while tablet PC shipments will hit 383.3 million units by 2017. Demand for tablet devices will be spurred by increasingly powerful multi-core processors, mature operating systems, growing application libraries and higher resolution panels, it added.
Ultrabooks to shine
Of the emerging form factors, the study identified ultrabooks as one to watch, as it is expected to contribute to demand in the later years of the five-year forecast. The demand will be driven by consumer interest in sleek design and convenience, such as instant-on and long battery life, it elaborated.
That said, demand for ultrabooks in the next two years will be tempered by the premium price points as well as supply limitations in terms of producing displays thin enough for ultrabooks, the report noted.
PC makers ZDNet Asia spoke to earlier also expressed positive sentiments toward ultrabook devices, with Dell's managing director for South Asia and Korea, saying there is "great potential" for the category due to user demands for powerful, yet portable, devices.