Amid surging interest, tablets set to outsell notebook computers during holidays

Tablets appear poised to dominate the holiday sales season, according to a number of shopping surveys. The findings could help buoy wireless operators hoping to generate additional data revenues from tablet users who want to connect their device to a cellular network.

According to NPD DisplaySearch's fourth-quarter tablet shipment forecast, tablets will outsell notebook computers in North America for the first time during the holidays. Sparked by Black Friday sales, the firm predicted tablet vendors will ship 21.5 million units during the quarter, far exceeding the 14.6 million notebooks and mini-notes that are expected to ship in the same period. And the firm predicted the trend will widen next year: NPD forecast 80 million tablet shipments in 2013 vs. 63.8 million notebooks. 

NPD said tablets sales will be driven by the high penetration of PCs in North America (70 percent) and the falling costs of tablets (the Google Nexus 7 and the Amazon Kindle Fire cost $200).

NPD's findings are bolstered by new research from Thomson Reuters, which found that fully one-third of Americans are considering purchasing a tablet during the holiday season. Leading the list was the full-sized Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) iPad with 25 percent of respondents voicing desire for the gadget. Amazon's Kindle Fire and Samsung's Galaxy tablets followed with 15 percent each. Only 8 percent of respondents said they wanted to purchase a Microsoft Surface and 8 percent said they wanted an iPad mini.

A survey from Nielsen showed similar results: The firm found that 21 percent of respondents over 13 years old planned to purchase an iPad in the next six months, surpassing the 19 percent who said they wanted to buy a computer. Fourteen percent of Nielsen's respondents said they wanted an iPhone, and 12 percent said they wanted a "smartphone other than iPhone."

According to Nielsen's survey, 11 percent of respondents planned to purchase an iPad mini, 10 percent wanted a Kindle Fire and 9 percent wanted a Samsung Galaxy Note or Tab.

That tablets are high on customers' shopping lists is key for wireless carriers. According to various reports, around one-fourth of tablets sold sport built-in wireless connections, and only a small portion of those wireless connections are activated for service. Nonetheless, even that small portion of activations could result in a boost to wireless carriers providing service to tablets. Carriers could also score revenues from users who connect their tablets to the Internet via a Wi-Fi hotspot generated from their smartphone.

Already, AT&T Mobility (NYSE:T) has predicted that tablets will help drive the carrier's fourth-quarter results.

"We anticipate a higher number of net adds from tablets in the fourth quarter," AT&T Mobility CEO Ralph de la Vega said on the operator's third-quarter earnings call in October.

And to ensure that outcome, AT&T earlier this month said it will launch a promotion that will give customers a $100 discount on a tablet if they sign a two-year contract for data services.

For more:
- see this Reuters article
- see this Nielsen post
- see this NPD post

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