Sometime later this year, a customer will walk into a store looking to buy a new computer. When he walks out, he will instead have a new tablet in his possession. Most likely that tablet won’t be an iPad, but rather an iPad mini. As such, this will be the year when tablets overtake notebook PC shipments worldwide for the first time, according to a new NPD DisplaySearch survey.

In 2013, tablet PC shipments are expected to reach more than 240 million units. Notebook PC shipments will hit 207 million units. In total, the research company expects tablet shipments to increase 64 percent from 2012.

Worldwide Tablet PC Shipment Share Forecast by Screen Size

Worldwide Tablet PC Shipment Share Forecast by Screen Size

Naturally, the big winner here will continue to be Apple, but perhaps not for the reason one would expect. According to the survey, 45 percent of tablets sold will be in the 7-to-8-inch category. By contrast, larger tablets such as the 9.7-inch iPad, will account for 17 percent of the market.

In other words, Apple should expect to see a lot more iPad mini sales this year. And if they do not, Cupertino did something wrong.

Worldwide Notebook PC and Tablet PC Shipment Share Forecast

Worldwide Notebook PC and Tablet PC Shipment Share Forecast

As to where people will be buying tablets, North America should lock up 35 percent of the market. China will see rapid gains. In 2013, the largest consumer market in the world will account for 27 percent of all tablets sold.

Says Richard Shim, senior analyst with NPD DisplaySearch:

The tablet PC market saw increasing investments in North America in the second half of 2012, from major brands that tested not only new screen sizes and price points, but also unconventional business models to support their efforts. The subsequent increase in shipments and demand underscored the benefits of segmentation in the market as it drove rapid market expansion. In 2013, further investments are expected worldwide, stoking demand to the point that tablet PC shipments will exceed those of notebook PCs.

The results of this analysis, if proven correct by actual shipments and sales, are interesting for many reasons.

First, it becomes increasingly clear that smaller tablets are not only here to stay, but will also be the ones dominating the worldwide market going forward. Second, expect more iPad mini presentations going forward. The traditional iPad, while it will certainly remain, will likely become overshadowed very soon by its little brother. Finally, expect to see Tim Cook in China a lot more often.

Personally, I’m starting to think that my iPad with Retina display purchase will be my last. Next time, I will likely buy the next-generation iPad mini.

Will your next tablet purchase be a next-generation iPad or something smaller?

Source: NPD DisplaySearch survey