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Since Apple unveiled the iPad to the world, tablet devices have attracted an immense spotlight. To some, they represent the future of computing, publishing, advertising and, well, life as we know it.

But is the smoke from the tablet market obscuring even bigger fires elsewhere? According to a study conducted by the Pew Research Center's Internet & American Life Project, e-reader ownership is growing much, much faster than tablet ownership.

Between November 2010 and May 2011, the number of adults in the United States with an e-reader has doubled. Today, 12% of the adult population owns one, marking the first time ownership has surpassed the 10% mark.

Tablets have grown quickly too, but can't keep up the same pace. In November 2010, 4% of adults in the United States owned a tablet device. That figure jumped to 7% just two months later in January 2011, but sits at just 8% today.

The slowing growth in the number of tablet owners begs the question: has the tablet hype gone too far, too fast? If Pew's numbers, which are based on a survey of more than 2,000 adults, are to be believed, it's hard not to answer 'yes' to that question.

This, of course, doesn't mean that tablets aren't important. They almost certainly are. But excitement over what tablets could represent may distract from the fact that the true potential of tablets won't be reached for some time, and that the real impact tablets will have on computing, publishing and advertising is still yet to be determined.

Meanwhile, tablets haven't slowed sales of e-readers.

So what does this all mean?


For publishers, being ahead of the curve may very well be preferable to being behind the curve. The fact that so many traditional publishers jumped on the bandwagon early on demonstrates a refreshing eagerness to embrace new technology, not fight it. At the same time, eagerness alone doesn't pay the bills.

Many publishers are still struggling to create viable tablet strategies. The New York Post is blocking iPad users from content it makes freely available on the web, publishers are trying to develop iPad-specific web experiences when they really don't need to, and some media moguls are throwing big money at tablet-only publications.

Given that a small minority of adults actually owns a tablet device, many of these things make little sense.


Advertisers, like publishers, have been eager to dip their toes in the tablet market so as to be ahead of the curve. Yet just like publishers, they really haven't seen returns yet.

Given this, advertisers should probably be careful not to invest a disproportionate amount of time and money into tablet campaigns until the market is more developed.


Naturally, the tablet is an appealing device for developers. This, of course, is particularly true for the iPad because of Apple's App Store, and some developers are already cashing in.

Yet Pew's survey highlights that there may be substantial opportunities in the e-reader space as well. Barnes & Noble, for instance, is courting developers to the NOOK, and even if it's not nearly as sexy, e-readers currently represent a larger and faster-growing market for developers to explore.

Patricio Robles

Published 29 June, 2011 by Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles is a tech reporter at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter.

2419 more posts from this author

Comments (6)

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Bob Smith

Er, what's an e-reader?

over 5 years ago


Steve Davies

The distinction between e-readers and tablet devices stems from the level of configurability - e-readers more or less simply function as digital books or magazines (I.e. Amazon Kindle), whereas tablet devices can function as a personal computer.

The title and content of Patricio's article is a little misleading however - e-readers are approximately a third of the price of the average tablet computer, so it's no surprise to see steeper growth.

The other factor which has strangely taken the publishing industry a *long* time to realise is that tablets are a valuable tool for consumers with or without dedicated publish apps - in fact I would go so far as saying that tablet uptake is driving apps and not the other way around...

I was advising other publishers nearly 2 years ago to avoid investing their time and efforts in iOS-specific apps and instead focus their attention on multi-platform propositions which are channel agnostic. Whilst much has been learned from building iPad/Phone apps, much has also been wasted.

I love my iPad - I'm using it to write this comment. Whilst sitting on the loo. I didn't need an app for that either... ;)

over 5 years ago


Steve Jones

what Bob Smith said.

over 5 years ago


Filippo DC

Probably even the beeper in the middle 80s was growing faster than cel phones. They had price and battery issues. But in the long run with this problem fixed mobile phones definitly overtook beepers and replaced beepers from the americans and europeans pockets. I guess it would be the same even for the tablets.

over 5 years ago

David Kohn

David Kohn, Head of Multichannel at Snow+Rock Group

The trend in most customer markets as they mature is towards 'device' divergence rather than convergence. Specialist devices for specialist purposes. Take sports shoes for example. When I was a kid I had a pair of dunlop green flash which I used for everything. I now have shoes for tennis, running, gym, badminton, 2 for cycling - road and MTB, casual walking, serious walking etc. etc. The same will be true of handheld electrical devices. There's space for eReaders - optimised for reading - iPads and laptops.

over 5 years ago


jason @ Cinnamon agency

All goes to show the rise of mobile media. In all walks of digital media: from pharmaceutical to e-commerce, we should learn to love the beast, and train it to do OUR bidding. Not its!

over 5 years ago

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