Yes, we know that there are differences between a dedicated e-reader and a tablet. And if absolutely forced, consumers will acknowledge the differences too. But ultimately that's not really what consumers focus upon. In the hearts and minds of consumers it works out to a kind of 'meet-my-expectations-stupid' paradigm, and articulated or not, shrinking sizes and prices of 'full-featured tablets,' are managing to better meet customer expectations and are, thus, raising questions as to the viability of devices upon which one can only read a book.
One of the key metrics we track in our annual Customer Loyalty Engagement Index are consumer expectations. This year, nearly 40,000 consumers self-classified as participants in categories we track, and then as customers of specific brands in that category. As any researcher can tell you, the customer incidence levels informs you very quickly as to whether a category is growing or shrinking, depending upon the degree of difficulty finding them. When incidence levels get really, really low, we sometimes drop a category, like we did with "cellphones." Not smartphones, mind you, just plain cellphones. Yes, they're out there, but in shrinking numbers, because of shrinking prices of increasingly smarter smartphones that have lured consumers from one category into another.
That said, when we first measured the "E-Reader" category in 2008, the iPad didn't exist. That was two years later. But even in 2010, when it came to "e-readers" we didn't get enough consumer self-classified mentions of the iPad to include it as a brand in the category. And before you get exasperated with us, yes, the iPad was mentioned (and was rated #1) in the "Tablet" category. But a different category.
But that's not the case today. Ask about e-readers and consumers now mention their iPads (and other tablets) so the category distinctions are beginning to blur, if they haven't completely blurred already. And while the number of people who report reading e-books has risen, fewer consumers report using a dedicated e-reader to do so.
OK, not surprising consumers are enamored with compact, multi-functional devices, and expectations – and brands' abilities to meet and even exceed those expectations – have come to reflect their behavior in the marketplace.
When we look at those expectations across all the electronic categories we track, (with 100% as the highest level consumers can possibly expect and a category might reach), e-readers rate 85% (down 6% from last year). Tablets, on the other hand, rate 92% (up 3% from 2012). You do the math. We're pretty sure your tablet has a calculator app on it.
To paraphrase the American engineer, Charles Kettering, high achievement, market share, and sales, always takes place in the framework of higher category expectations. That was always true.
The difficult part these days is making sure you read the category correctly!