Kindle vs. iPad: Are You Team Kindle or Team iPad?

Jul 07, 2011

Do you love multitasking on your tablet, jumping from Twitter to email to the latest version of Angry Birds with just a few quick finger taps? Or maybe you find yourself in the e-reader camp, opting to leisurely click through the summer's best-seller on a single-purpose device. According to new studies, those of you on team e-reader are far from alone. Recently, a report produced by Pew Research Center's Internet and American Life Project showed e-reader ownership has doubled over the past six months, while tablet ownership has barely inched forward.

The study, which surveyed 2,277 adults ages 18 and over, found that the share of e-reader owners have increased from 6% in November of 2010 to 12% in May 2011, citing the first time since the project began monitoring e-reader habits in April of 2009 that ownership of these devices reached double digits. Tablet ownership has not yielded the same results. Only 8% of adults reported owning a tablet in May 2011, a marginal increase from January 2011 when 7% of adults reported owning these devices.

So what accounts for the increase in e-reader ownership? Pew Research Center's Internet & American Life Project's associate director for research, Kristen Purcell, explains, "we suspect the holiday season gave e-readers a big boost, since they were a popular gift this year. And prices have been coming down on these devices recently, which may have also prompted some buyers to jump into the market." Currently, consumers can buy the basic Amazon Kindle for $114, while the least expensive Apple iPad 2 runs for $499. Purcell says that e-reader "growth is probably a reflection of their lower price relative to tablets. Given their higher cost, tablets are more a commitment for buyers, and some may be waiting for the tablet market to shake out a little bit, or even for prices to come down, before deciding which device to purchase. We did see a big jump in tablet adoption between summer and fall of 2010, so it seems that many early adopters who wanted to get into the tablet market early did so at that time, and now we are seeing growth level off a bit."

Price isn't the only deciding factor for buyers. For those considering purchasing a tablet and downloading the Nook or Kindle app to do their reading, Sam Levine and Matt Greer, co-founders of eReader Comparison Headquarters, warn that compared to e-reader screens, tablet LCD screens "get fingerprints, if you are outside the glare is ridiculous, it is just really not a good reading experience. Whereas with the e-ink that they are all moving to, it is nice, calm, it looks like paper, it doesn't glare, the page turns are really easy." In addition, Levine says, "the nice thing about an e-reader that a tablet really can't offer is battery life. If you are not a crazy, avid reader, a battery on one of those could be 2½ months. So you really don't have to worry about bringing a charger everywhere whereas the average tablet, maybe 5-8 hours max, and that's with moderate use."

Real users of both devices agree. Laura Malamud, President of LM Communications and e-reader and tablet owner, says that "I own both, but I bought my Kindle first. When it comes to reading, I definitely prefer my Kindle. It's easier to handle, allows for highlighting and bookmarking in an easier process, and feels more like reading a book." Nook owner and web developer, Ravind Budhiraja explains, "a tablet, to me, is just a laptop without the keyboard. It's great for casually surfing the web, or playing games while watching TV, but becomes a pain to use the minute you need to write anything longer than a URL."

Personal choice aside, the report from Pew Research Center's Internet and American Life Project found specific demographic patterns with tablet and e-reader owners. "Hispanic adults, adults younger than age 65, college graduates and those living in households with incomes of at least $75,000 are most likely to own e-book readers," the report states. Similar statistics appeared in tablet ownership, though men are now slightly more likely to own a tablet than women. College graduates showed the most growth in e-reader ownership between November 2010 and May 2011, and one-fifth of this group now own these devices. Levine has noticed a new addition to team e-reader. "We find that there are a lot of students that are now buying them. That is kind of a growing trend. Students buy them and get their textbooks in a PDF format. Usually the electronic form of these textbooks is a lot less expensive than the hardcopy textbook."

Whether you've embraced the multitasking abilities of a tablet or the more straightforward functions of an e-reader, Purcell notes that the continued adoption of both devices exemplifies the growing success of mobile tools. "E-readers and tablets do offer different features and functionality, so both devices may appeal to the same consumer for different reasons.  So I don't know if the ‘horse race' analogy is the right one when it comes to these two gadgets," says Purcell.  "It's important to remember that they are both part of a larger trend toward mobile devices that we have consistently seen over the past four years."