Amongst the fawning and feting around the launch of the first Apple iPad in 2010, there were murmured questions about just what niche and purpose the device would fulfill. Turn the clock forward to 2013 and those murmurs have long since ceased, with the latest research from Gartner suggesting that the upward trajectory of the tablet market could see the number of units shipped overtake PCs in 2015.

Three years is a long time in technology and the rise of the tablet is a case in point. "I was nervous when they first started talking about this and thought it would be nothing more than a giant iPhone,” said Gartner Analyst Van Baker on the launch of the iPad back in early 2010.

But Gartner did suggest that Apple’s entry to the tablet market might kick-start growth and, three years and down the line, it expects worldwide shipments of tablets to hit 184 million units in 2013. The figure, cited in research carried out by Gartner in Brazil, China, France, Germany, Italy, the UK, the US and Japan, marks an increase of over 53 percent from last year and, although growth is expected to slow slightly, a further 43 percent increase in shipments is forecast in 2014. Gartner explains that the devices market (PCs, tablets and mobile phones) is being driven by a shift to lower-priced devices in nearly all categories and, if the trend continues, there will be more shipments of tablets than PCs in 2015.

As a result of the boom in consumer demand for mobile devices, the PC market is in continued decline. Shipments of PCs (desktops and laptops) are expected to shrink at an average of 9 percent year-on-year between 2012 and 2014. Both Windows and iOS / Mac OS will see growth over the same period, but Windows is expected to stagnate at 2 percent average year-on-year growth whilst iOS / Mac OS will see growth of 21 percent. In 2014, Windows and iOS / Mac OS are expected to have 14 percent and 15 percent share of shipments respectively, and, if trends continue, iOS / Mac OS will pass Windows in 2015.

Mobile phones comprise the largest segment of the devices market, accounting for an expected 82 percent of device shipments in 2013 rising to 86 percent in 2014. The biggest beneficiary of this in terms of operating systems will be Google, whose Android platform is forecast to grow at an average rate of 32 percent year-on-year between 2012 and 2014. By 2014, Android is expected to be installed on 45 percent of all devices shipped – more than Windows and iOS / Mac OS put together.

Gartner expects the largest growth area to be in the relatively new segment of "ultramobile" devices – devices that can offer the same functionality as a PC but that can be used on the move like a tablet. It cites the Apple Macbook Air as a good example.

"While consumers will be bombarded with ads for the new ultramobile devices, we expect their attention to be grabbed but not necessarily their money," said Carolina Milanesi, research vice president at Gartner. "Continuing on the trend we saw last year, we expect this holiday season to be all about smaller tablets as even the long-term holiday favorite — the smartphone — loses its appeal.”

One final interesting point to take from Gartner’s report is the impact it expects wearable devices like smartwatches to have on the market. The report predicts that less than 1 percent of consumers will replace their mobile phones with a combination of a wearable device and a tablet by 2017.

"For wearables to be successful, they need to add to the user experience by complementing and enhancing what other devices already offer," explains Milanesi. "They also need to be stylish yet practical, and most of all hit the right price. In the short term, we expect consumers to look at wearables as nice to have rather than a "must have," leaving smartphones to play the role of our faithful companion throughout the day."

Source: Gartner