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Americans in love with eReaders, but confusion halts Tablet progress

We have come to trust the Pew Research Center Internet and American Life Project and its take on how Americans in particular, and by extrapolation the


Published: 30 June, 2011


We have come to trust the Pew Research Center Internet and American Life Project and its take on how Americans in particular, and by extrapolation the rest of the world, use internet connected devices. So this week when it came out and said that eReaders were the big growth item, not tablets, it has made not just us, but most other publications sit up and listen.

Its numbers, taken from a 2,277 person survey, suggest that tablet sales are flattening off when measured as the percentage of people who have them, and that eReader sales have perked up. This survey (which we trust) contradicts recent similar analyst reports (which usually ask their questions in a way which leads the consumer to give the right answers) which suggest Tablets are exploding.

Pew says that the percent of US adults with an e-book reader doubled from 6% to 12% between November 2010 and May 2011. In particular Hispanic adults, adults younger than 65, college graduates and those living in households with incomes of at least $75,000 are most likely to own e-book readers. Parents are also more likely than non-parents to own these devices.

Tablets have not seen the same level of growth in recent months. In May 8% of adults said they owned a tablet, just 1% more than those who reported owning one in January 2011 (7%), and represents just a 3% point increase in ownership since November 2010.

We have to ask if we are surprised at this or if this means that Tablets are not going to be the be-all and end-all of next generation computing.

Well first off we’re not surprised at this. The arrival of the Tablet and its pretense at being right for reading, in the same way as an eReader, has led to the prediction of the end of the eReader, when it fact the Tablets on the market are too heavy to use like a book, require an upright position to use, and can’t conveniently be read for instance laying down in bed, and the battery and sunlight issues of e-Ink (lasts for two months and can be read in direct sunlight) means that as people become more aware of the precise uses of the two device types, they are becoming more discerning. If they need an eReader they are now clear that a Tablet cannot do the same job for them and few are buying a Tablet by mistake, for reading books.

We are, of course, reminded of the arrival of the Personal Computer in its first iteration. The Apple II (yes we are that old) launching around 1977 for 1978 delivery, and the IBM PC was launched three years later in 1981 and most of the world got it in 1982. This did not kill off the dedicated Word Processor until around 1985. Yes it was a general purpose device which could do everything, including World Processing, but it took a while for the specialist eco-system of printers, print drivers and add on software to adapt themselves to the PC world and it took a while for the price and feature barriers to be slowly caught up by PCs, which were initially expensive, heavy and clunky and slow. In fact it wasn’t until Adobe established its PostScript page description language and memory prices fell for inclusion in printers, that this transition was truly on the way and it wasn’t until Windows 2.1 arrived in 1988 that the process was complete, because prior versions were delicate and crashed constantly and Word Processing documents were easily lost. Windows brought the cut and paste that WP relied upon, Postscript brought the printing capability of laser printers, but needed lots of printer located memory, so wasn’t really widespread until about the same time, although invented earlier.

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