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Tablet Nation?

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In an age when technological devices can achieve rock-star status, the launch of the iPad managed to attach "mania" to the brand's name as a popular suffix. (Try a Google search for the ungainly neologism "iPadmania" and you'll see what I mean.)

But looking beyond the media hype, how do iPad owners and non-owners actually feel about the gadget, and what do their attitudes portend for a broader category of tablet devices? Based on polling of iPad owners and adults in general, a report from YouGov Marketing Insights takes a close look at the matter.

Notwithstanding the torrent of publicity that accompanied the iPad's launch, it's not as though everyone and his brother is itching to buy one. Respondents who hadn't purchased an iPad were asked, "How likely do you think it is that you will buy this product in 2010?" Two percent said "definitely will buy it" and 5 percent "probably will buy it." Apart from the 14 percent who weren't sure, this left eight in 10 saying they "probably will not buy it" (32 percent) or "definitely will not buy it" (47 percent). The polling was fielded in mid-May.

"A lot of the initial hype was around early sales, which were much higher than many analysts predicted," says Katy Mogal, who follows the new-media market in her role as svp of client services at YouGov Marketing Insights. "But apart from its sales success, in its current form the iPad is unlikely to see mass adoption along the lines of the iPhone, for example, because it doesn't easily accommodate office functionality, such as word processing and spreadsheets, and it doesn't make phone calls. It's not a substitute for anything a consumer already has. It really is a 'third device' -- i.e, something nice to have but not necessary, and this limits the market potential of a device that costs at least $500 and does nothing you can't already do on a smartphone or a laptop."

The iPad's early sales success has come largely thanks to people who already owned an Apple product -- or, rather, plural Apple products. Forty-five percent of the survey's respondents who've bought an iPad are owners of at least three other Apple products, and another 22 percent own two other Apple items. Just 9 percent don't own anything else from the company. The early-adopter audience for the iPad also skews male, with men accounting for 65 percent of respondents who've bought one.

MOSTLY SATISFIED SO FAR
You might expect such a heavily hyped item to turn into an object of much buyer's remorse on the part of those who were swept up in the frenzy. But there's little sign of that so far. Seventy-two percent of the survey's iPad-owning respondents said they're "very satisfied" with it, while just 6 percent are dissatisfied. Fifty-one percent said it has been better than they expected, vs. 6 percent saying it has been worse. Of course, that's not to say satisfaction has been universal. Mogal notes that "there's also plenty of evidence of dissatisfaction among some owners -- just take a look at the reviews of some of the media apps in the iTunes store."

As a rule, though, iPad owners regard the device as superior to smartphones for a range of entertainment-related functions. Seventy-six percent said it's better for reading books, 75 percent for reading newspapers and magazines, 74 percent for surfing the Web, 72 percent for watching movies or TV shows, 70 percent for watching short videos and 63 percent for playing games. Among owners, the iPad also outscored the laptop for these functions, albeit by less lopsided margins. For instance, 57 percent said the iPad is better than the laptop for reading newspapers and magazines, and 42 percent said it's better for watching movies or TV shows.

"There's no question that a lot of iPad owners consider the device far superior for media consumption, gaming and a host of other applications," says Mogal. "If competitors can come close to rivaling this, as well as add, say, strong office functionality, the high-end tablet computer market could become truly explosive long term."

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