five-best-tablets-2012-wm

A new report from Gartner announces what we've expected for the last year, probably more. PCs sales are falling, and tablets are flying off the shelves that much faster. As a result, Gartner expects tablet shipments to eclipse that of desktops and laptops combined as early as 2015, which isn't all that far off. Hug your laptop now.

This isn't a hugely revelatory epiphany by Gartner. Many people don't need the power of computers, so they're instead meeting their needs with devices from Apple and other competing manufacturers. A tablet, which gets many hours of battery life and has access to numerous apps in the convenient package, is becoming much more sought after than a big old PC tower. Even cheap ultrabooks can't compete; the allure and accessibility of tablets right now can't be touched.

Gartner's research team believes Microsoft in particular has a lot to lose from the declining PC market, and The Guardian even says the Redmond-based company faces "irrelevance." Right now, Microsoft's Windows Phone OS is still struggling against the bigger shadows of iOS and Android, and the jury is still out on the company's Surface devices. Gartner says this new category, "ultramobile" devices like the Surface, will be really important for Microsoft as the tablet market continues to grow.

The problem Microsoft will need to find an answer to is keeping potential PC refugees in the Windows ecosystem, and also appealing to those first-time buyers—people who haven't previously owned a PC. With Apple's enormous lead in the tablet race, and Android's growing presence, Microsoft needs to find its own place among the crowd. A $500 Surface might not be the answer. And a $1,000 "ultramobile" device might not be it either. By 2017, Gartner's research suggests Apple alone will ship more iOS devices than Windows and Windows Phone combined. A pretty daunting obstacle indeed.