As of December 2012, 87% of American adults have a cell phone, and 45% have a smartphone. As of January 2013, 26% of American adults own an e-book reader, and 31% own a tablet computer. (more)
I’m curious about the demographics of tablet ownership. Despite being highly educated and plenty of us in decent jobs, it doesn’t seem to be something my peers (21-35, Londoners) are buying.
This is somewhat supported by Pew Internet statistics (albeit for the US). They report:
- 25% of 18-29 year olds own a tablet
- compared to 31% of 30-49 year olds
- and 27% of 50-64 year olds
NB from August 2012 so before Christmas purchases, and also no statistically significant differences in incidence between these three groups. Nonetheless, it seems indicative of a trend.
From a personal perspective, a few reasons why young people are less likely to buying tablets:
1. Can’t justify as an additional expense. We’ve got the laptop and £30 a month on a mobile… Buying a tablet - and perhaps a data plan on top of it - is a step too far. It might be nice, but first there’s rent to pay / a flat to save up for / meals out to have or travel to fund. It’s not a high priority.
But enough of us are working relatively decent jobs: affordability’s not quite the answer:
2. Perhaps we’ve jumped the tablet need for a mid-size screen, and have gone mobile-only to a greater extent than older people? Not least having younger eyesight that can handle reading micro text sizes on a 4” screen. Perhaps we’re more likely to have Android handsets with slightly bigger screens than iPhones?
I’d estimate I spend a couple of hours per day on my phone now, using it entirely as an internet device & not a phone. Twitter, Tumblr, some email, Pinterest, a lot of reading news. (This is cos my laptop is broken and needs to be plugged in to work. Still, even if it wasn’t I don’t think I’d ditch the phone entirely. Boot times are an issue.)
3. People seem to buy iPads when they have kids - entertainment devices. (Who the hell can afford to have kids, the amount of *stuff* you have to buy for them?!) People in their 50s seem to really go for them. Boomers having more disposable income is certainly part of it - but I think also that they’re not quite the mobile addicts that my generation are. More time spent at home, less time running around London makes a bigger device (and perhaps a wifi-only one) like a tablet more viable.
To see whether my hunches were supported, I did the scientific thing and asked my friends on Facebook. A few more smartphone owners than I expected, but then there’s self-selection bias with the question. Still, their comments are interesting - the enthusiasm isn’t overwhelming:
“I don’t have one - I just don’t see the point. It’s a big smartphone with no phone or proper Internet access.” (Anton, public policy)
“I have one, which I bought as a kind of expression of my own upward mobility, but I have literally used it twice” (Jesse, artist)
“Yes, I got one because I love gadgets, I was jealous of [girlfriend] having one and when it was released it seemed like a bargain price (the nexus 7). I feel most tablets are far too expensive, but that mine is about the right price” (Daniel, IT)
“No need have an iPhone couldn’t see the added value” (Richard, policy research)
Still, I reckon my contemporaries will end up mostly owning tablets - and not just because we’ll hit that mid-30s needing to entertain toddlers stage. It’s part of the general “inflation of necessity” - a smartphone is now a necessity, where 15 years ago a mobile wasn’t; a personal laptop is now a necessity, where 15 years ago a shared family PC was fine.
There’s also the Porn Theory of technology uptake, which to be honest gives a stronger use case for tablets (decent-sized screen for pics/video, can use it in bed) than anything else I’ve seen…
So yes, doubtless uptake will increase. But where does the money come from? My peers’ incomes are, mostly, growing - as we climb the greasy ladder at work. Overall, though, wage inflation is zero or negative. That £400 spent on a tablet is £400 not spent on something else - music and film (quite possibly), clothing (weak demand sees 7.7% price deflation in last year, so that’s likely), or perhaps food & eating out, which seems to be my contemporaries’ biggest recreational expense.
Consumer goods are at this point a zero-sum game - one in, one out. If tablets are to become a necessity, something else has to go. What?