Tablets fly off shelves: Bad news for laptop makers?

Tablets such as the Apple iPad 2 have a funny way of edging out other computing devices in the minds of consumers, according to one new report on tablets.

Tablets are increasingly popular among American consumers –– and even among American consumers who already own laptops or e-readers. Is the Age of the Tablet drawing nigh?

Tablets. They are very popular. And getting more popular, if the heavy hype – and ludicrously good sales numbers – surrounding the Apple iPad 2 are any indication. But did you know the tablet computer could eventually make the e-reader and laptop obsolete? Consider the new survey from Nielsen, which shows that tablets have a funny way of edging out other computing devices, such as full-featured laptops, in the minds of consumers.

Nielsen surveyed a bunch of tablet owners in the US. "When asked whether they used other connected devices more often or less often since purchasing a tablet, 35 percent of tablet owners who also owned a desktop computer reported using their desktop less often or not at all, while 32 percent of those who also owned laptops, said they used their laptop less often or never since acquiring a tablet," Nielsen reports.

Meanwhile, 27 percent of Americans who own both an e-reader and a tablet said they used their e-reader much less or not at all, post-tablet.

Before we go on, a caveat: laptops aren't going anywhere anytime soon. Neither are e-readers. Millions of both devices fly off shelves every year. At the same time, it's hard to ignore the underlying trend here –– tablets are increasingly the Swiss Army Knife of computers, and why would you want you want to buy a knife, a pair of scissors, and a nail file, when you could buy a Swiss Army Knife, which includes all of the above? (Even if the scissors are a little small, and you never really wanted a nail file anyway.)

"Is it a better computer than your laptop?" Tony Bradley of PC World asks today. "Probably not. Is it a superior platform for reading electronic books? Not necessarily. Is it the most convenient method of carrying and listening to your music collection? No. But, it has an advantage in that it is capable of doing all of those things –– and doing them quite well in most cases –– in one portable device."

Of course, just because tablet computers are popular, doesn't mean every tablet computer is good, or that all tablets will be gobbled up by users. The Motorola Xoom, which runs the Android OS, was enjoyed by reviewers but mostly ignored by shoppers; meanwhile, the BlackBerry PlayBook, RIM's entrant in the tablet wars, was panned by most reviewers. Bottom line: Good tablets, we want them. Lackluster tablets, we don't.

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