New tablet shipments will outnumber laptops for the first time in 2013, as touch display capabilities drive buying patterns rather than new operating systems like Windows 8 and Windows RT, research firm NPD DisplaySearch reported on Monday.
NPD projects that tablet shipments will jump to 256.5 million globally in 2013, then more than double to 579.4 million by 2017. Tablet shipments will grow by 67% in 2013 over 2012's level of about 159 million.
Meanwhile, laptop shipments will remain almost constant with last year's numbers, with 203.3 million projected to ship in 2013. The researcher expects laptop shipments to fall to 183.3 million in 2017.
One bright spot for laptops -- those with touchscreen capabilities will see shipments grow by 48% in 2014.
Ultraslim laptops, like Intel's Ultrabooks and Apple's MacBook Air, will account for 66% of notebook shipments in 2013. The share of ultraslim laptops will grow to 80% in 2017, NPD said. Intel's third-generation Ultrabooks will run Haswell chips for touch capability.
NPD said new operating systems like Microsoft's Windows 8 are unlikely to drive touch adoption, while lower-cost tablets and new form factors like convertibles will.
"Windows 8 has had a limited impact on driving touch adoption in notebook PC's due to a lack of applications needing touch and the high cost of touch on notebook PC's," said Richard Shim, an analyst at DisplaySearch, in a statement.
Low-cost tablets are driving tablet adoptions in emerging markets, NPD said.
The rapid rise in shipments of so-called white box tablets that are made mostly by small, Chinese manufacturers is cannibalizing the laptop business overall. In some emerging markets, tablets are selling where laptops have not previously sold.
Acer on Friday unveiled a new $169 Android tablet, the Iconia A1, and then Amazon briefly posted, then removed from its website, an ad for a Windows 8 Acer Iconia tablet for $380. Such a tablet would be the first 8.1-in. device running Windows 8.
IDC recently noted the impact of white box tablets driving all tablet shipments, which reached 49 million in the first quarter of 2013.
NPD's forecasts for tablets are far higher than IDC's.
In March, IDC projected 175 million tablet shipments in 2013, while NPD today projects that 256.5 million tablets will ship in 2013. IDC's report projected that 350 million tablets will ship in 2017, far below NPD's projection of 579.4 million tablet shipments.
Matt Hamblen covers mobile and wireless, smartphones and other handhelds, and wireless networking for Computerworld. Follow Matt on Twitter at @matthamblen, or subscribe to Matt's RSS feed . His e-mail address is email@example.com.