iPad a recreational rather than work device for most users

On the weekend of Apple’s iPad U.S. launch, Peter Caulfield drove across the border to Buffalo and forever changed his computing life.

The vice-president of operations at Toronto-based CTI Industries already owned an iMac, Macbook, and an iPhone, but he wasn’t going to miss out on Apple’s latest form factor for personal computing – dubbed a “media tablet” by analysts.

Now his latest toy is his favourite to pick up when he’s looking to do some serious digital digest.

“I absolutely love it,” Caulfield says. “It’s portable, light and fast. It’s now my primary device to check e-mail, Twitter, and things like that.”

Canadians not willing to cross the border to buy an iPad will have to wait until May 28.

This Torontonian’s usage experience is typical of the early iPad adopters, according to a new study from Rockville, Md.-based ChangeWave Research. Users are consuming media with their iPads, but not necessarily getting a great deal of work done on it.

Whether it’s watching video, reading books or surfing the Web, the iPad’s 10-inch screen is getting a lot of eyeball time.

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Web surfing is the most common use of the iPad, with 83 per cent of owners naming it as an activity. Checking e-mail is the second-most common at 71 per cent. Other top uses are all related to media consumption – watching videos, reading books, playing games and listening to music.

It’s an impressive array of uses, says Paul Carton, vice-president of research at Changewave.

“This is what you’d see when you’re looking at something that is a convergence device,” he says. “I don’t think you could find another electronic gadget with a greater array of uses.”

Consumer response for the media tablet has been off the charts, with Apple announcing it sold more than one million units in the first month of sales. The iPad is so popular it has effectively created a new market for other devices sharing its form factor, according to Framingham, Mass.-based consultant firm IDC.

Analysts estimate 7.6 million media tablets will be shipped worldwide this year. By 2014, that should grow to more than 46 million units – compared to 398 million portable PCs projected for that year. IDC defines a media tablet as having a 7 to 12-inch colour display with a lightweight operating system like iPhone or Google’s Android.

The media tablet could become more than a consumption device in the near future, says Susan Kevorkian, program director of mobile media and entertainment at IDC. New productivity applications will become available as software developers take advantage of the touch screen, accelerometers, and other features.

“We don’t think they’re limited to consumption, as enterprises start to develop applications that can be used on them,” she says. “The platform can be considered a blank canvas for those who want to tailor it to their particular needs.”

Caulfield does check his personal e-mail on his new iPad once a day. But that’s about as close to anything work-related as it gets. He did buy the iWork productivity applications, but finds them awkward to use.

“If your business drove you to use these tools, you’d want to use your iPad as a backup, or as an on-the-road situation,” he says. “The on-screen keyboard is good but it’s certainly not a replacement for a mouse and keyboard.”

Consumer demand for the iPad has only magnified since the device’s launch, according to the ChangeWave survey. About seven per cent of consumers are “very likely” to buy an iPad and 13 per cent “somewhat likely.” That’s higher than the pre-launch percentages of four and nine, respectively.

“We’re looking at one 800 pound gorilla right now with the iPad,” Carton says. “We’re going to have to go back and do comparisons as other tablets launch.”

Several Android-based tablet devices will hit the market by year’s end. The OS has recently surpassed iPhone’s marketshare in the smartphone market, thanks to popular devices from manufacturers Motorola and HTC.

Any media tablet competitors will have to deal with a lot of happy iPad users. Almost three-quarters of iPad owners are “very satisfied” with their purchase, the ChangeWave survey reveals.

The top two features owners like about it are screen-size and quality (21 per cent) and the ease of use (15 per cent).

But there might be some wiggle room to pry iPad users away from their devices. Owners cite absence of Adobe’s Flash as their top dislike (11 per cent) and problems with Internet connectivity as their second top dislike coming in a close second (nine per cent).

Android’s recent version 2.2 upgrade is the first mobile OS to support Flash. Apple will need to continue to innovate in future iPad iterations to keep pace.

“Apple will continue to be the leader in terms of shipments and technology innovation that its competitors will have to respond too,” Kevorkian says. “Similar to how it leads the way in the portable music player after it launched the iPod.”

The iPad could eventually be used for work purposes, Caulfield says.

“I could see it be used as an inventory device, or for ERP lookups,” he says.

For now, he’s happy to keep it in his living room and perhaps perched on top of a treadmill.

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