ipad_miniThe surge in tablet shipments continues with IDC forecasting that global tablet shipments will reach 221.3 million units in 2013, down slightly from a previously forecast 227.4 million but still 53.5% higher than 2012’s total.

Looking further out, IDC in its latest Worldwide Quarterly Tablet Tracker forecasts worldwide tablet shipments’ growth will slow significantly to 22.2% year over year in 2014 and total 270.5 million units. Annual market growth will continue to slow thereafter, dropping to single-digit rates with shipments peaking at 386.3 million units by 2017. That’s down from a previously forecast peak of 407 million units.

Going forward, the mix of small versus large-screen tablets is a key factor IDC analysts are watching, highlighting Apple’s launch of the iPad Air. “Apple’s launch of the iPad Air, a much thinner and lighter version of its 9.7-inch product, could herald another market transition back toward larger screens, presuming consumers are willing to pay the higher costs associated with bigger screens,” IDC states in a press release.

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The trend over the past 24 months has been manufacturers shifting to smaller formats “in a big way,” but “the rise of the large phones could well push consumers back toward larger tablets as the difference between a 6-inch smartphone and a 7-inch tablet isn’t great enough to warrant purchasing both.”

“In some markets consumers are already making the choice to buy a large smartphone rather than buying a small tablet, and as a result we’ve lowered our long-term forecast,” elaborated Tom Mainelli, IDC research director, Tablets. “Meanwhile, in mature markets like the U.S. where tablets have been shipping in large volumes since 2010 and are already well established, we’re less concerned about big phones cannibalizing shipments and more worried about market saturation.”

A shift to larger tablets could benefit Windows tablets, though IDC doesn’t foresee Microsoft taking market share from Google’s Android or Apple’s iOS tablets in any event. “For months, Microsoft and Intel have been promising more affordable Windows tablets and 2-in-1 devices,” commented Worldwide Tablet Tracker analyst Jitesh Ubrani.

“This holiday season, we expect a huge push for these devices as both companies flex their marketing muscles; however we still don’t expect them to gain much traction. We’re already halfway through the holiday quarter, and though there have been some relatively high-profile launches from the likes of Dell, HP, and Lenovo, we’ve yet to see widespread availability of these devices, making it difficult for Windows to gain share during this crucial period.”

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