When Steve Jobs unveiled the iPad in 2010, reactions were mixed. Skeptics said it was just a huge iPod touch, and would be Apple's first hardware failure in years. Less than three years later, that day stands as one of the most pivotal in tech history. The proof? On Black Friday, the iPad-led tablet market may pass laptops in North America.

That's the projection from NPD DisplaySearch's Richard Shim, who sees tablets outselling laptops by a 3:2 ratio this quarter (21.5 million to 14.6 million). Tablets are today's sexiest gadgets, but this would mark the first time that they've outshipped their keyboard-laden ancestors.

This isn't expected to be a holiday fluke, either. Shim says that 2013 will see tablets outselling laptops annually by 16 million units in North America. He predicts that the rest of the world will hit the same milestone starting in 2015.


The timing was perfect when Apple introduced the first iPad (cauldron image: Shutterstock)

Why have tablets taken off so quickly? The iPad, for starters. Like the iPod and the iPhone before, it took a clunky, overcomplicated product line, and injected Apple's simplicity. Riding the iPhone's coattails, the first significant tablet quickly turned into a sensational success.

Rival tablets, however, have taken longer to gain traction. The first Android tablets were clunky and overpriced, and we didn't see a success story until 2011's Kindle Fire. It and the Nexus 7 attacked from the low-end to create a tablet market, where before there was only an iPad market.

Laptops? "Meh"

PC owners may be less interested in upgrading their old machines (shelf image: Shutterstock)

With the meteoric rise of tablets, we've also seen a dampening of enthusiasm for traditional PCs. Shim attributes this to high penetration rates. Over 70 percent of U.S. households have PCs. Rather than upgrading, many of these customers are opting for a tablet.

Black Friday both reflects and accelerates this trend. If you live in the U.S., look at any retailer's flyer. Chances are, it features tablets much more prominently than laptops. Widespread interest has shifted, and it doesn't appear to be turning back.

Have you held off on a PC upgrade because of a tablet? Have you replaced your laptop altogether? Let us know in the comments.

View gallery - 3 images