Personal Technology

Tablet Adoption Is on a Blistering Pace, With Parents Leading the Way


Tablet Adoption Is on a Blistering Pace, With Parents Leading the Way

Photograph by Jon Chakkicom/Eyevine/Redux

Tablets have become the minivans of the information superhighway—sensible mobile computing for affluent parents.

More than one-third of American adults now own a tablet computer, almost double the rate from a year ago, according to a report published Monday by the Pew Internet Center. In May 2010, only 3 percent owned a tablet. In popular imagination, early adopters tend to be young, hip males. But unlike smartphones, which young people embraced most quickly, tablets have become most popular among highly educated people in their thirties and forties. Half of Americans with children at home own tablets.

The adoption of each new wave of communications technology seems to happen more quickly than the last, according to an analysis last year by MIT’s Technology Review:

“Smart phones, after a relatively fast start, have also outpaced nearly any comparable technology in the leap to mainstream use. It took landline telephones about 45 years to get from 5 percent to 50 percent penetration among U.S. households, and mobile phones took around seven years to reach a similar proportion of consumers. Smart phones have gone from 5 percent to 40 percent in about four years, despite a recession. In the comparison shown, the only technology that moved as quickly to the U.S. mainstream was television between 1950 and 1953.”

Tablets are spreading even faster. While this may be making the lives of harried suburbanites more convenient, it’s terrifying media industries that haven’t figured out how to take advantage of the devices as quickly as Americans are buying them. This week that tension will be apparent at E3, the video game industry’s premier trade show. The event is getting under way Monday with announcements from such companies as Sony (SNE) and Microsoft (MSFT). While console makers are battling each other, they’re also facing pressure from simpler games that can be downloaded cheaply into smartphones and tablets. The Wall Street Journal is reporting that many mobile developers see no reason to attend the show.

Tablets are puny by comparison with serious gaming devices such as the xBox and Playstation. But with half of American parents handing them off to their kids every time they want 45 seconds of relative piece and quiet, they can lay a pretty strong claim to being the future of gaming. And everything else.

Brustein is a writer for Businessweek.com in New York.

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