In a period where we see Apple’s latest results reveal that over 11 million iPads were sold in its last trading year — a 166% increase over 2010 — along with Apple saying they sold as many iPads as they could physically produce, it’s perhaps time to reflect on where we are with the device which has taken the world by storm.

Via a combination of various research sources we are led to certain conclusions about where the iPad has got to in our society. Let’s take a look.

Demographic factors

The gender balance will move from a heavily male bias toward a more even split. Analysing iPad usage after 9 and 80 days, Yahoo! observed a marked shift in the ratio of male to females accessing their content via an iPad (from 2:1 to 3:2). However, it is likely that males will remain narrowly the dominant group.

In the medium-term, affluent consumers will remain the core users. Two good reasons for this are:

  • Straightened consumer spending over the next year or so. Tablet devices may take a number of years to reduce significantly in price (although am very interested to keep an eye on the all-new Kindle Fir at £199.99 later this year).

  • The tablet is not an “essential purchase” (unlike phones and laptops), and will not be seen as such until the technology improves and the device begins to surpass the laptop. 2012 could be a breakthrough year. In the United Kingdom for instance, the London Olympics may help sales, and Forrester forecasts that tablets will begin to cannibalise netbooks from this year onwards.

Right now, the key age group is 35-54.

  • See table (taken from Yahoo! research) below.

    Profile of Yahoo! iPad users, 80 days after launch
    <21 8%
    21-29 19%
    30-34 15%
    35-44 28%
    45-54 17%
    55+ 13%

  • Figures released by Nielsen appear to corroborate this view. Their figures point to the 25-36 age range, with 37-55 second.

In the medium-term, the key group is likely to be 35-54. Since the earliest days of the iPad, both Nielsen and Yahoo! have reported a slight increase in the average age of a user, which was initially more weighted to the younger, early adopter market. iPhone uptake followed a similar trajectory, so we may hypothesise the same for the iPad and tablet.

In the longer term, who knows? But 35-54 looks a strong bet. The affluence of the 35-54 group is likely to remain an ongoing determining factor here. In addition, if “curated computing” is the future of the tablet (as Forrester believe it is), then it is likely to appeal to a middle-aged, busy, time-poor audience

Content factors

Consumption is primarily in-home, and looks set to remain that way in the medium term. Some 62% of iPad users rarely or never take their device outside the home, according nVision research. Similarly, Forrester reports the tablet device as acting primarily as “a new addition to the multi-PC lifestyle.”

They say, “Tablets will expand consumption in new parts of the home. As early users of the iPad are discovering, tablets are the perfect form factor for reading or watching videos in bed, listening to the radio in the shower, and reading a newspaper at the kitchen table — all use cases where a smartphone or laptop could be used but the tablet gives a demonstrably better experience.”

Shared tablet usage may increase in the medium term, though in the longer term, single ownership is likely.

  • This may sound a little counter-intuitive given that one of the key features of the iPad is the ability to customise it with your own apps (and credit card information). However, as Forrester reports, consumers are also discovering the tablet is more social than a laptop: without the barrier wall of a vertical screen, they can show content to others, and apps like Scrabble for the iPad are explicitly designed for social interaction.

  • “Sharing” could become a battleground between tablet manufacturers. Windows 7 allows multiple users to set up accounts on a single PC — if they could bring this capability to the tablet format, it could give them an edge over Apple. Visual content is important, and will remain so. In Yahoo!’s 80-day iPad analysis, the Yahoo! property that saw the greatest surge in usage was Flickr — up 143% on average.

So, in conclusion, what forecast can we draw on all this? Richard Harte, Telegraph Media Group’s director of planning and analysis says,

  1. The iPad is likely to remain primarily in the hands of affluent 35- to 54-year-olds until mid 2012. The gender balance of users will even out and the average age of a typical user will gradually increase. How does this stack up with your audience?

  2. In the medium term, the iPad will remain as an “additional” technology, rather than as a “replacement” technology.

  3. iPad usage is mainly in-home and is likely to remain so in the medium term.

Visually captivating content is and will continue to be important, as will tools and games that can be shared — both between devices and on a single device. What’s your position on mobile gaming? A new revenue stream? Take a look.