Rumors have spread that Apple would release the third iteration of it’s wildly successful tablet computer in 2011. The Wall Street Journal confirms that the iPad 3 will hit the market in early 2012.
It’s hard to believe that the iPad is not yet a year and a half old, and its a testament to Apple’s brilliance that this device has quickly become so wildly popular. NIelsen reports that 5% of the US population currently owns a tablet computer, but my work suggests that this figure understates US penetration of the tablet computer. By the end of 2011, more than 36 million tablet computer units will be sold in the US, putting that figure closer to 10% of US population.
It took the iPod (which debuted in 2001) 6 years to reach a US penetration of 20%. The iPod served one purpose - serving up digital music. The iPad on the other hand offers utility across a variety of functions. It is a platform for media content of course (keep in mind that is all media - video, audio, print), but it is also a device on which its owners both search for information and communicate.
This combination of search/media/communication suggests to me that this device will have a powerful effect on media consumption on the part of its owners. The iPad and other tablet computers will not damage the business models of current media content providers in the way that iPod eviscerated much of the traditional business model of the music industry. (There are a number of reasons for this, including the fact that current media content providers now have a case study in why they should not let Apple infiltrate content distribution as they did with digital music. Look at the negotiations this past year between print content providers and Apple, and you will see a medium that has learned from the mistakes of the music business.)
But that being said, the combination of three iPad capabilities (search/media/communication) will change, if incrementally, the way that media is chosen, consumed, and recommended. Look for tablet ownership to reach 20% of the US population in much less time that it took the iPod to reach this penetration.