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One in four Americans now owns a tablet, according to Pew Research

One in four Americans now owns a tablet, according to Pew Research

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The Pew Research Center just released some data on the growing adoption of ebooks, but buried amongst its survey data was a more interesting tidbit — the group's latest survey shows that a full 25 percent of Americans own some type of tablet. That's not including those who may own a more traditional E Ink reader — though it's a self-reported survey, so there's always the potential for confusion amongst the 2,252 respondents. That's up significantly from the ten percent of respondents who said they owned a tablet as of December of 2011 and marks a pretty significant rise for a product category that essentially did not exist three years ago. Tablet ownership has even surpassed that of e-reader ownership, despite the higher cost of entry and generally poorer book-reading experience; it looks like consumers are picking multi-function devices over feature-specific devices yet again.

To put it in perspective, Pew found in 2011 that about 85 percent of the US owned a cellphone, while the CTIA trade group found that mobile device penetration exceeded the number of citizens in the US late last year. As for a more direct comparison to the tablet, smartphones are appear to be sitting at just about half of all cellphone owners in the US are using smartphones, according to Nielsen. While there's still a wide gulf between the tablet and the smartphone, it looks like tablet adoption appears to be happening a good bit faster than smartphone adoption. However, it took years for smartphones to be truly marketed as consumer devices, while tablets are almost exclusively pointed at consumers for content consumption, with business usage being a secondary benefit.

Luxury computing devices are finding a bigger market

The proliferation of high-quality options like the Kindle Fire and Nexus 7 (not to mention the new iPad mini) likely are helping tablet adoption, as well as the fact that most tablet purchases don't require the lengthy two-year contract commitment that smartphones carry. While there may be a lot of reasons for the tablet's rise over the last year, it's also worth noting that this is just a survey sample that isn't necessarily reflective of the entire population — tablets still have a reputation as a "luxury" device, rather than must-have gear like computers or cellphones. While dropping price points mean lots more consumers can pick up an iPad mini or Nexus 7, complete mainstream dominance may still be a bit farther away, though we wouldn't bet against the form factor at this point.