The tablet market is led by Apple's iPad with the Amazon Kindle Fire… (Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles…)
Tablets are no longer just for those Pavlovian types who have to have everything first, according to a new study. And yes, it found that iPad is almost everywhere, but Microsoft might just come out of nowhere.
Tablet ownership appears to be spreading from the early adopters, with 22% surveyed considered "laggards," those who will try only an established tech product, according to a survey by Javelin Strategy & Research. They are often shared among family members and used for more casual "layback mode" interactions.
While tablet ownership has yet to become mainstream, it is most certainly on the upswing. It is forecast to explode from 8% in 2011 to 40% in 2016.
A random sample of nearly 6,000 consumers in December 2011 found that tablet users tend to be in the 26-to-44 age bracket and earn more than $100,000 annually.
Segment innovator Apple's iPad captured the largest share of the sample with 55%, and those owners mainly represented a higher income bracket.
But Apple shouldn't get too comfortable with its lead.
"Although Apple is clearly the innovator, the sheer number of Google Android tablets, price ranges and carriers will prove overwhelming," according to the study. "Unless Apple can win big at the patents court, it will see its head start vanish sooner than anticipated."
Coming up in the distance is Amazon's market disrupter, the Kindle Fire, which emerged in November "as the first true competitor to iPad, and seizing 10% of the market by December."
Also interesting was what appears to be an opening for Microsoft. While Windows has only 10% of the market, "surveys of consumers' future purchases show 20% naming Windows, indicating there's some life left in Microsoft's tablet play, if it can deliver as promised in 2012," the survey said.
When asked which operating system they would prefer in a future tablet purchase, the majority said Apple's iOS. But surprisingly, Windows was right behind Apple with 21% and just ahead of Android.
"Microsoft's step into tablet technology might attract users who don't want to choose between productivity software and entertainment," according to the survey. "Just as Apple's tablet offering seeks to bridge the gap between tablets and PCs from a hardware perspective, Microsoft's move is aimed to do so with software."
That said, there's still a lot of ground Microsoft needs to make up to even be considered an also-ran in this race. "Microsoft would need to create a strong digital content ecosystem almost from thin air."
Even as Microsoft has opportunity, it appears the market is continuing to sour on RIM's BlackBerry PlayBook tablet, whose market share slipped to 9% in December from 12% in June.