Tablets to start outshipping laptops in the U.S.

Well, the headline says it all. According to the latest numbers by DisplaySearch, tablets are going to outship notebook PCs for the first time ever this quarter—at least in the United States. Tablets are expected to retain their lead through 2013 and beyond, as well.

In all, DisplaySearch forecasts fourth-quarter U.S. shipments of 21.5 million units for tablets and 14.6 million units for laptops and "mini-notes." ("Mini-note" is the firm's pet name for netbooks.) Next year, DisplaySearch expects tablet shipments to reach 80 million units, up from just 63.8 million units for notebooks.

Three factors are playing into the rapid uptake of tablets in the U.S.: a market saturated with PCs, a shift in "consumer preference" toward tablets, and the fact that major tablet vendors like Amazon and Google "started, focused, or emphasized their tablet efforts" domestically, the firm says. It's true that Amazon's $199 Kindle Fire was a U.S. exclusive when it came out last year. However, Apple's iPads have been available in other countries from the get-go.

Speaking of international shipments, the picture looks a little different worldwide. DisplaySearch says tablets aren't going to squeeze ahead globally until 2015, when they're expected to outship notebooks by 275.9 million to 270 million—a comparatively small difference.

Still, it looks like we're witnessing something of a mass migration—a shift from complex but powerful productivity devices toward simple but limited content consumption devices. I'm not sure I like the idea. Sure, making computing easier and more accessible is a good thing, but tablets are still awfully awkward to use for anything remotely productive, like writing or programming.

I suppose a lot of folks are simply supplementing their existing PCs, though, not switching to tablets as their primary computing devices. Also, the rise of convertibles like Asus' Transformers and VivoTab RT might help bridge the functionality gap between tablets and laptops.

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