Christmas Gadget Explosion is Thankfully Figurative

Despite the hard economic times, it appears it was a bumper Christmas for sellers of handheld gadgets. The number of Americans owning tablet computers and e-readers appears to have almost doubled in the space of a few weeks.

According to the latest figures from the Pew Internet & American Life Project, the proportion of US adults owning a tablet computer rose from 10% in mid-December to 19% in early January. The figures for e-readers were exactly the same.

The pre-Christmas survey was of just under three thousand people, while the January figures come from two surveys totaling 2,000 people. As with all such surveys, extrapolating to the national population is far from flawless. The statistical margin of error in this case means there’s a 95% chance that the actual nationwide rise for each type of gadget was somewhere between as narrow as a leap from 12% to 16.6% and as wide as moving from 8% to 21.4%.

Whatever the true figures, there has clearly been a significant rise in ownership that, given the timescale, is likely a combination of direct gifts, people spending cash or store voucher given as a gift, and people who had long-planned to buy one of the gadgets but held back to make sure they didn’t get it as a Christmas gift.

The survey didn’t ask about brands, though the authors speculate it’s the result of both Amazon and Barnes & Noble introducing low-priced tablets and slashing the costs of their e-readers. It may well be this was just the usual boost in sales caused by lower prices, but may also have meant the gadgets fell into more Xmas gift budgets.

Another noticeable trend (albeit much more vulnerable to the margin of error) came with people who owned both types of gadget. In December, when tablets and e-books were each at 10%, the proportion of people who owned both types was 18%, suggesting the vast majority were owned by major tech lovers.

For the January figures, with each category at 19%, the proportion owning both was 29%. That certainly ties in with a lot of people getting one of the gadgets for the first time.

The survey also looked at demographics. With tablets, a slight imbalance in favor of males has now evened out, which certainly fits in with a more stereotypical early adopter theory. With e-readers, there’s now a clear gender gap opening up, with 16% ownership amongst men and 21% amongst women.

Perhaps more surprisingly, ownership of both tablets and e-readers is proportionally more common amongst African American and Hispanic people, though not by a significant margin. That mirrors the pattern with smartphones, where one explanation is that they are more likely to be used as a substitute for a fixed-line phone service or a computer, particularly among those living in short-term rentals.


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