Apple's iPad could seriously disrupt the e-reader business of Amazon, Sony and others, according to a survey last month that queried American consumers on their purchase plans.
"The iPad is all but certain to have a transformational impact on [the e-reader market] going forward," said Paul Carton, director of research for ChangeWave Research, in a report issued Friday. "While a handful of e-reader manufacturers -- most prominently Amazon -- clearly have a major head start, the survey findings show the iPad is poised to profoundly shake up this market."
ChangeWave polled more than 3,100 U.S. consumers in the first half of February -- days after Apple CEO Steve Jobs unveiled the iPad -- and asked whether they were considering purchasing an e-reader, and if so, which one, in the next 90 days. Of those who said they would probably buy a device, 40% said they planned on purchasing an iPad, compared to 28% who ticked off Amazon's Kindle, 6% who said they would buy a Barnes & Noble Nook and 1% who voted for the Sony Reader.
Carton issued a caveat. "Amazon and the others are not going to just sit there and twiddle their thumbs, they'll react," he said during an interview Friday. But if they don't, and the iPad is as successful as the ChangeWave poll indicates, he added, the Kindle, Nook and Sony Reader could find themselves playing catch-up.
He also warned against awarding the iPad top prize in the e-reader sweepstakes based on one poll. "The iPad has not been launched, so declaring victory before the army has landed is premature," he said.
Other results from the survey, however, pointed to the iPad's future success, whether or not it unseats the Kindle. Both the 4% who said they were "very likely" to buy Apple's new device and the 9% who confirmed that they were "somewhat likely" to purchase an iPad were larger numbers than said the same in a similar survey in April 2007 prior to the launch of the first-generation iPhone.
In 2007, just 3% of American consumers polled said they were very likely to buy Apple's first smartphone, while 6% said they were somewhat likely to.
"There was far more skepticism before the iPhone's launch than now with the iPad, both from analysts and from consumers," said Carton. "No one remembers now, but before the iPhone [went on sale], some analysts said who was Apple to dare to go into the cell phone market." The takeaway from the survey, Carton continued, isn't that the iPad's numbers were larger by a point or two, but that demand for it is at least equal to, if not greater than, the pre-sales demand for the iPhone.
ChangeWave also measured the cannibalization impact that the iPad will have on other Apple products by asking consumers whether they would now be buying a tablet in place of one or more devices they had been considering. One in 10 said they had put an iPhone purchase on hold because they planned to buy an iPad; 9% said they would delay plans to buy either an iPod or Mac laptop.
In the end, a quarter of those with plans to buy an iPad acknowledged that they would delay other Apple product purchases.
"That's not as bad as it might look," said Carton, noting that a relatively small portion of the polled consumers were planning on buying an iPad. In fact, he said one could consider the wide variety of postponed purchases as a strength for Apple's tablet. "I can see it as further evidence of the iPad's ability to penetrate multiple electronic product categories," he said.
And even if it does cannibalize existing lines, well, that's not necessary negative either. "If it succeeds and ends up cannibalizing some products, Apple can still come out ahead," Carton said.
Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at @gkeizer or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed . His e-mail address is email@example.com.