A man displays an unannounced Lenovo tablet computer at a preview of the CES in Las Vegas
A man surrounded by journalists displays an unannounced Lenovo tablet computer running the full Windows 7 operating system at a preview of the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas January 4, 2011. According to a spokesman at the show, the computer, scheduled to be available in May, has a tentative name of the IdeaPad Slate, uses the Intel "Oak Trail" 1.6gHz processor chip and has a 32gb SSD drive and a microSD card slot. Reuters

Explosive growth of the tablet sector, compared to tepid PCs sales, have led market researcher Gartner to conclude the computer industry is irrevocably shifting to tablets.

Tablets will be substitutes for several of the consumer electronics consumers often carry with them. Thin-and-light mobile PCs with tablet-like features will become mainstream, said Andrea McIntyre, research director.

As a result, tablets may push out bulkier PC styles that have been the norm, she added.

In August, Gartner rival IHSiSuppli estimated tablet sales this year will leap 60 percent to nearly 160 million, while PC growth will be a mere 9.3 percent to 385 million.

Gartner, based in Stamford, Conn., for years has compiled data on the chip and PC industry. A new report, iPad and Beyond, essentially concludes the era of the PC is over.

The market research is no surprise: big U.S. PC makers like Hewlett-Packard and Dell have reported tepid growth at best and Taiwan's Acer has reported losses.

The only major PC maker reporting substantial growth is China's Lenovo Group, which grew by acquiring IBM's former PC business. Lenovo has entered the tablet market with its IdeaPad.

Gartner said the success of iPad, as well as strong demand for new rivals, may prove that multitouch technology will become the de facto interface of high-end smartphones and media tablets, and will extend to additional consumer devices and to PCs.

Besides the consumer sector, the tablet will have utility in industry, health and the retail sector, Gartner forecast. On Monday, for example, Motorola Solutions announced a $1,595 ruggedized tablet for retail called the ET1; other vendors have promised tablets for use in non-consumer applications soon.

Gartner executives said they will conduct a webinar on their research Oct. 27.

Gartner shares rose 3.3 percent Monday, closing at $36.04.