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Tablet ownership doubles, but year-over-year growth rate is declining

With three new tablet models launched just last week from Apple (with the iPad Air), Microsoft (Surface), and Nokia (Lumia 2520), you might expect a flood of holiday tablet sales - or a collective moment of hesitation as consumers wait to see which tablets are here to stay. But those purchase decisions aren't just a function of the bells and whistles offered by the latest models; they're an indicator of where we're at in the life cycle of the emergent tablet market.

Over a third of Americans (34%) now own a tablet computer. Tablet ownership has nearly doubled from 2012 to 2013. Although the tablet market is expanding, the year-over-year average growth rate of tablet ownership is declining. In 2012-2013, the growth rate was at 79%, a stark decline from the 217% growth rate figure from 2011-2012.

Stats about tablets 1

Should the tablet industry be worried? The short answer is no: after all, a 79% year-over-year average growth rate is still remarkably high for any tech product that is being adopted in North America. Also, non-customer purchase intent remains high: 11% of those who do not currently own a tablet report that they are considering a purchase within the next 6 months.

stats about tablets 2

For investors, however, a year-to-year drop in growth rate may serve as a warning sign. Comparing the growth rate figures of tablet versus mobile adoption over their peak sales years, we can see that mobile growth does not experience the same dip that tablets currently experience.

What are the implications for marketers and researchers?

Now that over a third of North Americans own a tablet, with even more owning a mobile device, researchers need to make surveys optimized for mobile & tablet devices in order to reap the benefits of big data. The days of taking surveys solely through a desktop computer are over. Currently there are only a few providers, such as Vision Critical, who provide a streamlined survey platform that is optimized for all desktop, mobile, and tablet devices.

Whether and how quickly the tablet market catches up to mobile depends on the future purchase decisions of those who have yet to buy their first tablet. Yes, more Americans are adopting tablets - but are those who are tablet-less considering purchasing one anytime soon?

As mentioned, 11% of those who do not currently own a tablet are considering purchasing one within the next 6 months. However, purchase intent for tablets has decreased from 20% in 2012 to 11% in 2013. The decrease in purchase intent is important to analyze because if we were to place the tablet in the product lifecycle, it is most likely positioned between the stages of growth and maturity. During the maturity stage, sales grow at a very fast rate and then gradually begin to stabilize, which is exactly what we are seeing today with tablets. First time purchasers may want to hold off buying until the tablet market fully reaches its maturity stage - when we will most likely see prices drop and see improvements in tablet features.

Stats about tablets 3
More facts about tablet users:
  • 82% use the device to send or receive text messages (SMS)
  • 79% use the device to listen to music and watch video
  • 55% use their tablets to send or receive email
  • 53% use the device to surf the internet
  • 42% use the device to access social media
  • 29% use the device for online banking

These stats suggest that the tablet category is entering into the maturity stage of the product lifecycle. I wouldn't be surprised to see Apple, Samsung and other manufacturers gradually drop prices and differentiate their products more to claim a larger piece of the tablet pie. And as we continue to see tablets saturate the market, there is an increasing importance for marketers to maximize the value of big data by optimizing their research platforms to be mobile and tablet friendly.


The figures come from a survey conducted by Vision Critical, a software development company that creates online research. The company used a division from the Angus Reid Forum called, Springboard America to sample 22,902 Americans ages 16 and older. The survey was conducted in May 2013.

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