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As tablet shipments soar, notebooks take a hit, research finds

NPD DisplaySearch says that tablet shipments hit 72.7 million units in 2011, accounting for one-quarter of the mobile PC market.

As if you needed further proof that tablet popularity is skyrocketing, NPD DisplaySearch has provided some new data to make that point even clearer.

According to the research firm, 72.7 million tablets hit store shelves worldwide in 2011, securing the form factor 25.5 percent of the entire mobile PC market. Assuming NPD DisplaySearch's fourth-quarter estimates hold up, tablet shipments last year rose 256 percent compared to 2010.

Meanwhile, the research group has revised its 2011 notebook shipment forecast down slightly to 187.5 million units from its original 188 million estimate. Still, it estimates that notebook shipments were up 12 percent last year compared to 2010.

Although tablets might have impacted notebook shipments last year, most industry observers agree that, for now, tablets aren't doing much to cannibalize notebook sales. In fact, Google-owned mobile ad network AdMob found last year that 77 percent of current tablet owners still use notebooks, but just do so less frequently after buying their slates. What's more, Forrester Research found last year that tablet buyers are more likely to have bought PCs within the last couple years. In other words, few tablet owners believe their slates can fully replace current notebooks.

That notion apparently resonates with NPD DisplaySearch. The research firm says that by 2017, worldwide notebook PC shipments will jump to 432 million units. Tablets, meanwhile, will see their unit shipments jump to 383.3 million by that time.

NPD DisplaySearch is also bullish on ultrabooks. The thin, lightweight notebook form factor, which some say could eat into tablet sales, could see shipments grow to about 175 million in 2017.

One other interesting tidbit from NPD DisplaySearch's study: as many as 25 percent of all the tablets to be shipped this year will feature screens with 250- to 300-pixel-per-inch panels. To put that into perspective, the iPad 2's screen currently boasts 132 pixels per inch.