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Why the "Warm And Cuddly" iPad Isn't Eating Netbook Market Share ... Yet

ipad-sofa

The iPad is a potential savior for so many moribund industries — from newspapers to 8-bit gaming — but a disruptive threat to others, such as tiny PC laptops (AKA netbooks). New survey data, however, seems to suggest that netbook sales aren't being cannibalized by Apple's tablet. In the future, your mileage may vary.

The key figure in the survey, which NPD released today, is that 87% of iPads were bought as "incremental purchases." In other words they bought them because they wanted them as an extra device, not because they wanted to replace an existing computer. Which could also prove the average U.S. consumer has at least $500 more to spend on gadgets than they did a few years back.

NPD's VP of industry analysis Stephen Baker says the iPad has nothing to do with the oft-quoted slowdown in netbook sales that manufacturers are seeing in 2010, since the slowdown began before the iPad arrived. This new statistic certainly seems to support his thinking. Our one niggle: those consumers, having "incrementally" dropped $500 on an iPad, may later reconsider plans to buy another portable computer ($500 is a lot of money, and once you've played with an iPad you're pretty much hooked). But that kind of thinking is harder to survey. 

Baker understands this, to a degree. He quotes an earlier NPD survey that shows iPad early adopters are 44% more likely to watch YouTube clips, 50% more likely to watch movies, and 38% more likely to read e-books. These activities are "a dagger at the heart of the usage model for netbooks and secondary notebook computers," Baker says, because doing them on an iPad is way more comfortable than on a netbook. And since 20% of iPad users' time was in bed — insert raised eyebrow here — this is significant. The iPad, Baker notes, "makes people feel warm and cuddly".

So what's the conclusion? Claims that the iPad is cannibalizing netbook sales are not necessarily supported by the data. But the way you use iPads mean they penetrate further into your life in ways a netbook could never manage. For example: You may feel more comfortable taking the iPad into the bath to read, since it's easy to hold, but holding an EEE PC above the suds is a far trickier operation. And it's this change of usage habits that could soon cause the iPad (and other tablets) to eat up PC laptop market share like a voracious snow tiger breaking a fast. 

To keep up with this news follow me, Kit Eaton, on Twitter.

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