Combined sales of smartphones and tablets to surpass the humble PC in 18 months, says IDC

Our supply checks say that 10 out of 10 analysts are insanely bullish about tablets -- despite the fact that there are only 2.5 competitive products on the market, and one of them only came out a month ago. So, naturally, it isn't difficult to scrounge up sales predictions that show the tablet rocketing into the stratosphere, cutting into PC market share, while also expanding the market outright to accommodate its post-PC ways. Gartner's guess is 55 million tablets next year, while IDC has a more conservative estimate of 42 million, but both predict a sharp, exponential rise in the following years, and IDC takes it one step further: 18 months from now, combined smartphone and tablet sales will eclipse the PC, it claims, with both categories hovering in the mid-400 million range.

Now, that number is mostly smartphones, which isn't an unprecedented shift in and of itself -- the PC took a major hit in popularity in Japan once the kids got ahold of these newfangled phone things -- but overall it represents a shift from the open-ended, flexible, and powerful PC to the narrow, task-specific, app-driven nature of the iOS and Android kind. Or you could spin it the completely opposite way: people need phones, so they buy a nice phone. No PC death knell in that behavior, and the tablet is still a very niche product with some good PR. Either way, we'll be much more impressed with this sort of market battle when it's the tablet (perhaps with a little help from the smartbook or netbook-lite category) going up against the Windows and Mac PC head-on, without smartphones shouldering most of the load.