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NEW YORK — Global shipments of tablets will eclipse personal computers in 2015, as consumers flock to lower-priced and smaller alternatives to Apple’s iPad, market researcher IDC said Tuesday.

Tablet shipments are projected to grow 45 percent from this year to reach 332.4 million in 2015, compared with an estimated 322.7 million for PCs, according to IDC.

PC shipments may decline 7.8 percent this year, the worst annual drop on record, the researcher said, a revision from its prior projection for a 1.3 percent decrease.

More portable, affordable and backed by hundreds of thousands of applications, tablets are replacing PCs as consumers’ main tool for checking email, browsing websites and accessing music and movies. In the three years since Apple introduced the iPad, cheaper tablets running Google Inc.’s Android software have emerged to fuel faster growth.

“For many consumers, a tablet is a simple and elegant solution for core use cases that were previously addressed by the PC,” said Ryan Reith, an analyst at IDC.

IDC said the worldwide average selling price for tablets is seen falling 11 percent to $381 this year, and likely to keep declining as more consumers choose smaller machines such as Apple’s iPad mini and competing devices made by companies including Samsung Electronics and

In 2017, 333 million PCs will be sold worldwide, while tablet shipments will reach 410 million, IDC said. IDC, which had previously forecast a “gradual increase in volume” for PCs next year, now projects that the market will contract 1.2 percent in 2014.

Consumers are pushing back upgrades to their PCs and companies are also holding off on spending on replacements for employees’ machines, IDC said. Tablet shipments will overtake laptops this year, the researcher said.

IDC said the forecasts include the impact of Windows 8, Microsoft’s newest operating system, which was introduced in October. The software was designed to be used on touch-screen devices and tablets, aiming to help PC makers compete with mobile devices increasingly capable of performing tasks once confined to PCs.

Hewlett-Packard and Dell are trying to expand their presence in the tablet market to counter slumping demand for traditional desktop and notebook PCs.

“Many users are realizing that everyday computing, such as accessing the Web, connecting to social media, sending emails, as well as using a variety of apps, doesn’t require a lot of computing power or local storage,” Loren Loverde, an analyst at IDC, said in the statement.

“Instead, they are putting a premium on access from a variety of smaller devices with longer battery life, an instant-on function, and intuitive touch- centric interfaces,” Loverde said.