updated 12:20 pm EDT, Tue March 20, 2012
US tablet breakdown shows 3G, 4G fare poorly
A new study on Tuesday from consulting firm Chetan Sharma has pointed to a very strong bias towards Wi-Fi tablets in the US. Based on data from the past summer, the most recent point at which there was a detailed breakdown available, about 90 percent of American tablets were Wi-Fi models. The results weren't split by individual model, although this was just before the launch of the Kindle Fire and would have kept Apple above 60 percent overall, based on IDC estimates.
A direct explanation wasn't given for why Wi-Fi was the top choice, although price likely the driving factor. As most of those who can justify buying a tablet have relatively easy access to Wi-Fi, the need to pay a premium for a 3G or 4G tablet, along with its associated contract, is relatively low. The technology usually finds more favor in Asia and Europe, where Wi-Fi is less common or the tablet might be a person's biggest computing device.
The split would help explain the iPad's continued lead despite a large number of Android tablets that theoretically had an early edge with 4G. Many Android tablets in the US are either sold primarily or exclusively with a cellular connection, often at a large premium above a roughly equivalent iPad. Providers often try to steer buyers of these tablets towards two-year data contracts or carrier-locked versions that many of their customers can't justify. iPads can be bought with contract data as well, but Apple prefers contract-free, unlocked iPads that can be used on most carriers.
The new iPad may help kickstart cellular demand by merging the most popular tablet with LTE, although this might not necessarily translate to a lift for carriers. Some customers are known to buy 3G and 4G tablets as insurance, giving them the option to get online away from Wi-Fi if they decide on it in the future.