In a PC market that oscillates between dismal and ho-hum, shape-shifting hybrid devices are the lone bright spot.
A new Gartner report covering the landscape for two-in-one notebooks and tablets says "sales of hybrid devices have not stopped growing since 2012, totaling 12.6 million units in 2014 and expected to reach 58 million units in 2019."
The firm calls "hybrid ultramobiles" the fastest growing segment of the mobile PC market, with sales expected to rise 77 percent in 2015 compared to last year.
In Gartner's taxonomy, that category includes thin and light notebooks with a screen size of 10 to 14 inches that include a detachable keyboard or that can be converted into a tablet by flipping or folding.
Gartner projects that OEMs will sell 13.5 million devices in the hybrid ultramobile category this year, led by Asus, which shipped 3.1 million units in 2014. Lenovo (with its aptly named Yoga line) was second in 2014 with 1.9 million. HP was third with total sales of 800,000 units. Gartner notes that HP has "significantly expanded its product line in this segment with a broad range of consumer models across a variety of price points, from $199 to $1,999."
Those numbers don't include Microsoft's Surface and Surface Pro lines, which are classed as "ultramobile tablets" because its keyboard is optional. Gartner says Microsoft had a 36 percent market share in this category in 2014, and was number 3 overall behind Asus and Lenovo with 14 percent of the total hybrid market.
The firm projects a total of 8 million ultramobile tablets will be sold in 2015. That's about 10 percent more than the total of all Chromebooks expected to sell this year.
If those figures are accurate it means Microsoft sold more than 1.7 million Surface products in 2014, many of them more expensive Surface Pro 3 models, which weren't released until summer. If Microsoft maintains that share in 2015, Gartner's figures suggest it could ship roughly 3 million units for the full year. If, as is widely expected, Microsoft releases a Surface Pro 4 designed for Windows 10 later this summer, it could significantly boost those numbers.
The firm also cited its own survey conducted across five countries (U.S., China, Brazil, India and Germany), which found that "as many as 11 percent of tablet users, 10 percent of desktop users and 8 percent of notebook users are considering replacing their current device with a hybrid device in the next two years."
Most of the growth in these devices is coming from consumers, Gartner says, noting that hybrids are a tough sell with enterprise buyers. IT decision-makers are "struggling to make a compelling case to purchase hybrid ultramobiles for users because the PC installed base is predominantly Windows 7 and legacy applications are not touch-based," according to Gartner research director Tracy Tsai.
Tsai suggests the business case will be clearer when businesses start to migrate to Windows 10 and can make better use of the features unique to hybrids and convertible. That's a process that might take several years, of course, and its velocity is highly dependent on the global economy.
Despite the impressive rise in numbers for these hybrid devices, it's worth noting that they still represent only a fraction of new sales. Clamshells will account for 87 percent of mobile PC sales this year and will still represent 74 percent of sales in 2019.