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Hot This Season: Getting In Touch With A Tablet

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Tablet computers are on a lot of people's wish lists this year.

A recent Nielsen survey found the Apple iPad is the most wanted gift for kids ages 6 to 12. Some have even taken their appeals to YouTube. But if an iPad isn't in the budget, there are some 30 other tablets out there to choose from.

One of those alternatives includes the shiny new Kindle Fire from Amazon, luring you with its $199 price tag. In just a few weeks, it's rocketed up to the second-place spot in the tablet market.

"I think what the Kindle Fire does is it provides a gateway to the tablet universe for people," says Rhoda Alexander, senior manager of tablet and monitor research for IHS. She says having that lower-priced tablet on the market brings tablets into the mainstream.

"A lot of people looked at the iPad before but thought it was out of their price range or that they'd wait for a while," she says.

Now, they've got a lower-priced entrance into tablet land.

To give you an idea: IHS predicts that nearly 65 million tablets will be shipped this year — up a whopping 270 percent from last year. This is for a class of devices that basically didn't exist just two years ago.

"If you think about the economy we've had and the hesitancy to spend across large parts of the economy, this is one area where we've seen solid spending and solid growth," Alexander says.

Not only are people buying tablets, but they're buying things on the tablet like apps, movies, games and even shopping for other products.

Still, so far, only a small proportion of Americans have a tablet, 11 percent, according to the Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism, which came out with a study on tablet use in the fall. The center's deputy director, Amy Mitchell, says those early adopters fit a pretty defined profile.

"They are 30-49 years old, they tend to be more employed full time than the population overall, they have a higher family income than the population overall, and are more highly educated," Mitchell says.

She says now that there are lower-priced tablets out there, the population of tablet owners will likely expand and diversify.

Tablet Revolution Here To Stay?

A few years ago, smaller-form factor laptops called netbooks had a huge showing. But since the introduction of the iPad, and especially within the last year, netbook sales have crumbled.

Will tablets suffer the same fate? So far, there are a few signs that tablets have staying power. For one, Rhoda Alexander at IHS says tablets have wide appeal.

"What we're seeing is interest across the market, not just with consumers, but with business and particularly from education," Alexander says.

Second, it seems like once people get tablets, they love them.

In the Pew study, over 70 percent of tablet owners used them every day, for an average of 90 minutes. Plus, surveys have found people use them instead of their other devices like PCs and smartphones, not just as an add-on diversion.

The tablet market is young enough that many people are still watching, and waiting, to see what's coming out next.

Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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