The (IDC) International Data Corporation estimates that in 2011, the worldwide e-reader industry will ship 16.2 million units by year’s end. Conversely, the IDC estimates that world Tablet PC sales will reach 53.5 million units.
At first glance, statistics like this can be somewhat misleading. One can make the assumption that tablets PCs are clearly dominating the market in terms of units sold, and for now, they are. So you would think that consumers own way more tablets than they do eReaders. Not so fast. It’s important to remember that E-Readers have been around significantly longer than tablets. Therefore, as of right now, more people in the U.S. own eReaders than they do tablets. For that matter, ownership of both eReaders and tablets, pale in comparison to that of cell phones, personal computers, DVRs and MP3s.
Let’s throw a little more confusion into the mix. Between November 2010 and May of 2011, ownership of eReaders in the U.S. rose from 6% to 12% of the population.
On the other hand, tablet computer sales have slowed in the last six months. In May 2011, 8% of U.S. adults reported owing a tablet computer. In term of population, this represents only a 3% increase over the numbers from November 2010. In fact, the percentage of the population owning a tablet in January 2011 was 7%, and rose only one percent between January and May 2011. Prior to November 2010, tablet ownership had been growing relatively quickly.
By year’s end, the IDC predicts that there will be a 24% increase in worldwide eReader sales over 2010 numbers. During this same time, tablets are expected to grow by a smaller 6.2 percent.
In the meantime, tablet computers are still significantly outselling eReaders, but realistically are eReaders any kind of threat to tablet computers or vice versa? That’s a difficult question to answer.
Famously Incorrect Predictions
I think there is a world market for maybe five computers. ~Thomas Watson, chairman of IBM, 1943
Heavier-than-air flying machines are impossible. ~Lord Kelvin, president, Royal Society, 1895
Everything that can be invented has been invented. ~Charles H. Duell, Commissioner, U.S. Office of Patents, 1899
It doesn’t matter what he does, he will never amount to anything. ~Albert Einstein’s teacher to his father, 1895
Okay, my turn. Having been on this planet for 46 years or so, I’m daring to speculate about the future of eReaders and tablets, at least for the short term. Mind you in the 80’s I thought cameras had reached their apex, and quite frankly in the early 2000’s I really didn’t understand all the “buzz” about this thing called the “Internet” (air quotes). I mean there’s books and catalogs. If I wanted to find information, I could find it, thank you very much. Oh and DVD’s, so you could tack on some scratchy, discolored, poor quality “making-of” crap at the end of a movie. Ewwww, pinch me I’m dreaming!
The recent introduction of color eReaders such as the Barnes and Noble Nook, SKYTEX Primer, and so on, lends me to believe that there will be a convergence of technology, with eReaders gaining increased web-based versatility, while tablet manufacturers focus on making their screens easier to read, even in bright sunlight.
For now, eReaders and tablets are simply different tools in the toolbox. When considering which format to choose, consumers should look at the predicted use of the devices. If you are a heavy reader, you may want to seriously consider the route of eReader. EReaders employ eLink technology, which by comparison to tablets, is far easier on the eyes. ELink technology is perfectly readable in direct sunlight and thanks to backlighting is just as easy to read at night, or in low light situations. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of most tablets. If you are looking for overall versatility, tablets are the way to go, especially in the area of web-based activities.
With so many manufacturers releasing so many tablets and eReaders it’s impossible to know for certain where the market is going. There will certainly be winners and losers, but the game is always afoot and comebacks are all part of the game. With the waning popularity of physical book and newspapers, sales for both eReaders and tablet PCs will undoubtedly continue to grow.