A third of American adults now own tablet computers

A third of American adults now own tablet computers

Summary: If you thought you were seeing tablet computers everywhere, you were right. Over a third of Americans now own a tablet and more are buying them every day.


Does it seem like everyone you know is getting a tablet computer? There's a reason for that. They have been. Tablets are getting more popular than ever. According to the Pew Research Center's Internet and American Life Project, over a third of American adults now own a tablet.


By Pew's latest survey numbers, "A third (34%) of American adults ages 18 and older own a tablet computer like an iPad, Samsung Galaxy Tab, Google Nexus, or Kindle Fire—almost twice as many as the 18% who owned a tablet a year ago."

While tablet computers aren't new, their popularity only dates back to April 3, 2010 when Apple introduced the iPad. By May 2010, older tablets and the iPad reached 3% of the adult market. Not three years later, the number of tablet owners has increased eleven-fold.

Who are these people? Pew's numbers reveal few surprises:

  • Demographic groups most likely to own tablets include:
  • Those living in households earning at least $75,000 per year (56%), compared with lower income brackets
  • Adults ages 35-44 (49%), compared with younger and older adults
  • College graduates (49%), compared with adults with lower levels of education

The Pew survey did find one oddity: "Unlike smartphones, which are most popular with younger adults ages 18-34, we see the highest rates of tablet ownership among adults in their late thirties and early forties. In fact, almost half (49%) of adults ages 35-44 now own a tablet computer, significantly more than any other age group. Adults ages 65 and older, on the other hand, are less likely to own a tablet (18%) than younger age groups." In other words, when it comes to tablets, Generation X--not the Baby Boomers nor the Millennials, aka Generation Y--are the ones driving tablet sales.

Users are only going to continue to buy tablets in ever greater numbers. Indeed, market research firm NPD claims that by 2017, tablets will outsell notebooks by six to one.  Today, IDC has found that global tablet shipments grew by 142.4-percent year-over-year during the first quarter of 2013, and that "tablets have shown no sign of slowing down."

A big part of what's driving this explosive growth, according to IDC, are inexpensive Android devices with screen sizes of about 7 inches. Looking ahead, IDC predicts that smaller tablets, such as the Nexus 7 and the Apple iPad mini, will have 63% of the market by 2017.

At the same time, PC sales continue to head into the toilet. Indeed, by IDC's count the last sales quarter, global PC shipments have plunged into their worst drop in a generation.

It's no wonder that Microsoft appears to be aiming Windows 8.1 at tablets and other mobile devices rather than making disgruntled Windows 8 desktop users happy. The future belongs to tablets. 

Which tablets are people buying? Pew doesn't look into this, but many other research firms follow this. ABI Research states that "The tide is definitely turning toward Android-based tablets, though Apple will not slouch as it feels the competition approaching."

IDC found that Android-based tablets are already edging ahead of iPads, 48.8-percent to 46-percent. ABI Research senior practice director Jeff Orr wouldn't go that far but he would say, "It's inevitable that Android tablets will overtake iOS-powered slates, though we see no single vendor challenging Apple’s dominance anytime soon."

As for would-be challengers to Android and Apple, there really aren't any. Microsoft with Windows 8 and RT is the closest thing to a viable alternative, but even combined their sales lag far behind tablet market leaders, Apple, Samsung, ASUS, and Amazon.

We're well on our way to a world where tablets, and not PCs, will be the most popular computing device and the real battle for market supremacy will be between Apple and Google's Android allies. No one else at this point—Firefox, Microsoft, Ubuntu—appear to be in the running for top tablet honors.

Related Stories:

Topics: Mobility, Android, Apple, Google, iPad, Linux, Tablets, Ubuntu, Windows 8

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  • Suprised

    ...that it isn't more than that. All I see is tablets all over the place. As far as I see it, they are more handy now than a desktop computer and they can do 90% of all we can do on a desktop PC. I wouldn't get on the road without my Surface RT anymore.
    • More New Tablets In June

      One worthwhile source for tablets in the U.S. is TabletSprint - which features a few new models that launch this month and are worth reviewing-- the Pipo U8 ($169) compares to the 8 inch mini iPad and features a fast Quad core processor and the 8" size is almost as compact as a 7" tablet but offers 65% more screen space to play with. This new model is also one of the first tablets to work with Miracast HD Wireless (like Apple Airplay) that essentially turns your HDTV into a multimedia console...

      Also new this week is the Pipo M6 ($279)... a 9.7-inch, full-size tablet with a Retina display along with Android 4.2 and the latest Rockchip Quad Core processor. It's 2048X1536 IPS screen is impressive; and it also features Bluetooth 4.0, WIFI, HDMI, Dual Cameras, a 7000 mAh battery, along with premium front Speakers with superior sound quality, and Google
      Play... this site also features the SmartQ U7, the world's first tablet with a built in projector, and the new extra large 12 Inch tablet, the Icoo 12GT for $299--
  • Amazon and Barnes & Noble aren't allies of Google

    From the article:
    "the real battle for [tablet] market supremacy will be between Apple and Google's Android allies.

    At best, Barnes & Noble is a frenemy of Google's.
    Rabid Howler Monkey
    • Not any more...

      The latest update from Barnes & Noble gives the Nook access to the Google Play store. Sadly, as best I can surmise, this is Barnes & Noble basically throwing in the towel on their tablet business, but doing so in a way that doesn't alienate current Nook owners.
      • RE: Not any more...

        Exactly why I chose the term frenemy. However, Barnes & Noble continues to compete directly with Google via their online book business.

        If what you say is true about B & N throwing in the towel with regard to their tablet business, then it will be moving into Microsoft's sphere via the NewCo partnership created in the Android settlement agreement. B &N needs a Big Brother to compete against Apple, Amazon and Google and, good or bad, that role will be played by Microsoft. IMO, of course.
        Rabid Howler Monkey
  • Yes. I think Android has the momentum now.

    I bought an iPad in April 2010 (1st day they were out). Love my iPad and use it everyday. Bought my wife a Nook HD last Christmas which she uses everyday. With the much lower prices of the "Android-based" tablets, I agree that Apple's iOS will continue to lose market share over time. Both platforms are very good. If I were buying a new tablet today, I'd probably spend less $$'s and go Android.
  • re demographics

    Adult group with highest ownership is 35-44, so (surprise!) the group most likely to have children in the 5-12 age range. That is, beginning reading/pre-sex-obsession age group. So how many of these devices would be used by their adult owners rather than their owners' offspring?

    If these tablets are either USED mostly by kids or predominantly for leisure as movie players, TV streamers or e-readers, then Office won't be a major selling point for Windows tablets. IOW, Windows tablets will only appeal to people who want a small screen laptop which could be used from time to time as a tablet. I doubt that's more than 1/6 of potential tablet buyers.

    Re kids, an obvious follow-up question would be how many households own more than one tablet. Highly unlikely those would be one for each adult's exclusive use.
    • Exactly.

      Tablet = Fruit Ninja, Angry Birds, Netflix, and other things to be a babysitter so Mom and Dad can do stuff without the little kids bothering them.
      Jacob VanWagoner
      • Re: Exactly

        Is that what you do with your little kids, or how your parents treat you?
  • Tablets

    I gave the RT to my daughter, I gave both the Nexus 7 and iPad to employees. I haven't booted the Win8 Acer tablet in 3 weeks.

    I use the Galaxy 8 all day every day. Is it perfect? Hell no! Is it close? Yes!
    Terry Walters
    • tablets

      BTW, I'm 55.
      Terry Walters
  • What is an Android tablet?

    The Kindle Fire I am sure is lumped into that "Android" stat, yet it is a device that is heavily forked and doesn't even run official Android Apps (without hacks). The Kindle Fire also account for over 30% the entire "Android" market. A device that's not really an official Androids device but a fork which account for over 30% of "Android" sales, leading in alternative tablet sales. So where does this leave the other official "Android" device makers?

    Point is lumping all competing device running some version of the "Android" OS in one category misrepresents what's actually happening in the market.
  • Good article about tablet adoption

    With all the things you can do on a tablet it's no wonder they are being swooped up at such a pace. I guess the big question when buying a tablet is "what to buy". I know Microsoft is the new comer to this arena with Win8. It will be interesting to see if Microsoft can make a dent into this marketplace. It will not be easy given how quickly both of the sacred tablets (http://smallbizcomputerhelp.com/images/moses-and-the-tablets.png) get updated with new features.

    I guess the big question is "Can Microsoft keep its WinTab OS interesting enough to gain any traction?"

    Don't forget that Ubuntu is looking pretty good as it gets ready to enter the tablet market in the following months. It would not be difficult for an OEM to offer an Ubuntu touch as they can run on many current Android configurations and more are being ported every day. If the right OEM decides to run with Ubuntu Touch it could quickly displace any WinTab numbers leaving Microsoft in the dust.
    • It's missing some necessary info...

      For the above-25 demographic, tablet = Fruit Ninja, Angry Birds, Netflix, and other things to be a babysitter so Mom and Dad can do stuff without the little kids bothering them.

      For the college kid and/or recent grad, tablets are for "I don't want to pay for a smartphone plan, but I need something to entertain myself while I'm on the potty"
      Jacob VanWagoner
      • Source?

        What data is the basis of your opinion that tablets are only play things?

        From other articles on ZDNet, other tech sites, and the general news media, tablets (not phones) is what's driving the BYOD movement. I honestly don't believe these mobile professionals want something just to play games.
  • Not sure the accuracy

    So being a phone survey, this is also based on people willing to do a survey, and willing to answer for an unknown number. I'd love to know how these work with DNC registry, too. Lastly, 2,300 is a terrible sample of the nearly 300,000,000 in the US.
    • Agreed

      I noticed the same thing. Also, where were these polls conducted? The ethnic/economical demographics vary considerably even in the large cities across the US.

      However, sjvn is the first one I've seen that included the sample information. He deserves credit for that.
  • I Don't Think of Tablets as Computing Devices

    My first tablet was the original Kindle Fire. When the iPad came out, I saw no need for a tablet, esp. at Apple's price point, but the K7 was so cheap (and I'm an Amazon customer & it included free shipping & Prime for free for one month - which happened to be December) I decided why not.

    It was possibly the best bang for the buck I've ever gotten out of any computing device/gadget, and I bought the Fire HD when it came out.

    But I do NOT think of either device as a "computing" device. I use a high-end computer for work (and personal business) and rarely do/did anything with it that wasn't job related (no twitter, facebook, only the occasional blog browsing).

    The Fires have, more or less, opened up a Brave New World: YouTube, Twitter, ebooks, blogs by the boatload, internet radio, music, etc. They are for me entertainment devices, easy to carry or use most anywhere. Great for some quick Googling when I'm reading.

    I can't see ever giving up my desktop, nor do I see any way that any tablet could replace what I use my desktop for. OTOH, I'd way much rather watch a video on the Fire then sit at my desk and watch it.

    In short, I see them as complementary devices. There may be many people for whom a tablet is or will be sufficient. But I think "desktops/laptops will die" is a non-starter.

    p.s. Yes, I do know that, technically, tablets are computing devices. But I don't use them for databases, spreadsheets, web design, etc. so from my perspective they are not "computers".
  • Astonishing growth

    At $ 200, tablets are an impulse buy. To get to those staggering 2017 numbers, most family members will have a tablet, and because of the low cost, the upgrade cycle will be 2-3 years.
  • And Just About None Of Them Run Microsoft Windows

    You can argue about whether we're really in the "post-PC" era, and whether a tablet counts as a "PC" or not. But one thing is certain.

    We are in the post-Windows era.