Tablet downsizing trend to quicken in second half of 2013

Flip-flop from larger to smaller screen sizes will pick up speed as everyone jumps into Apple's 8-in. market, hoping for larger profit margins

The shift toward smaller tablets will accelerate in the second half of the year when a slew of tablet makers, including Apple, introduce new models with screens 8-in. or smaller, said Richard Shim, an analyst with DisplaySearch.

Although larger-sized tablets dominated 2012 -- those 9-in. and larger accounted for 60% of sales last year -- the going-small switch has picked up unexpected speed, Shim said.

"In 2013, it is smaller tablet PCs that are expected to make up over 60% of shipments," he said in a Tuesday blog post. DisplaySearch estimates that for the year, 66% of all tablets sold will sport screens smaller than 9-in.

Last month, rival research firm IDC said 8-in. and smaller tablets would account for 55% of the total for 2013.

Shim attributed the tablet flip of fortunes to a race to the basement by tablets 7-in. and smaller, and moves by several manufacturers, including Apple, to solidify their profit margins with slightly-larger formats.

"While tablet PCs with 7-in. displays appear to be heading for the low end of the market (less than $200), Apple's iPad mini with its 7.9-in. display has captured a significant share of the market, despite its starting price of $329," Shim noted. "Brands are hoping to expand this 'middle class,' gaining some share and slightly better margins than 7-in. tablet PCs."

OEMs including Acer, Asus, Dell and Lenovo will launch 8-in. tablets in the July-September quarter, said Shim, citing DisplaySearch's checks on Asian screen suppliers.

Apple, meanwhile, will debut a new iPad Mini in the second half of the year -- analysts believe September or October are the likeliest targets -- that retains the 1,024-x-768-pixel resolution of the original, not, as fans might hope, a Retina-quality screen. The Mini will come with iOS 7 and is expected to be powered by the Apple-designed A6 system-on-a-chip (SoC), the same processor inside the iPhone 5.

Shim forecast a Retina iPad Mini (with a resolution of 2,048-×-1,536 pixels, the same as the current 9.7-in. iPad) for 2014, probably in the first quarter.

Although Shim didn't mention Microsoft or Windows, the Redmond, Wash. developer and its OEM partners will also get into the smaller tablet mix this year.

Acer, for example, has already shown the first-ever 8.1-in. Windows 8-powered tablet, the Iconia W3. Although higher-priced than the entry-level 16GB iPad Mini -- the Iconia will sell for $379 in a 32GB configuration, $429 with 64GB of storage -- analysts expect others to follow, including a "Mini" Surface RT from Microsoft, at slightly lower prices.

This article, Tablet downsizing trend to quicken in second half of 2013, was originally published at Computerworld.com.

Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at  @gkeizer, on Google+ or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed . His email address is gkeizer@computerworld.com.

See more by Gregg Keizer on Computerworld.com.

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