April 11, 2011, 3:08 PM

Two out of five tablet owners shop online via the device, Google says

Internet retailers beware: Get ready for the post-PC future.

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The release of Apple Inc.’s iPad started a revolution in personal computing, and a new survey by Google Inc. details the habits of tablet owners. It’s a very revealing look at the behavior of the mobile aficionado.

Already, 28% of tablet users say their tablet is their primary computing device while 77% say since purchasing their tablet the amount of time they spend on their laptop or desktop has decreased. 68% of tablet owners use their tablet an hour a day; 38% two hours. This data shows that in a very short amount of time the tablet has changed the way many people access the Internet.

And tablet users are cottoning to mobile commerce. 42% say they shop online on their tablet. And they do much more. 84% of tablet owners use their tablet to play games, 78% search for information, 74% check and send e-mail, 61% read news sites and apps, and 46% read e-books. And most intriguing to me: One-third of tablet owners say they spend more time on their tablet than watching television.

Tablets are going to crush netbooks, the small portable PCs that have gained some traction in recent years. Yes, a netbook has a standard keyboard as opposed to an onscreen keyboard, but netbooks were designed with Internet users in mind. And, as an owner of a netbook and an iPad, I can tell you the web experience on the iPad is far superior. Plus you get all those great apps with a tablet. (I wish I could go back in time a couple years and tell myself to hold off on buying that netbook.)

I think in the long term tablets will replace laptops. The only real differences are the keyboard and screen size. For heavy word processing on the $9.95 Apple Pages word-processing app I bought an Apple wireless keyboard and I’m all set. And at the same time, I didn’t think users of smartphones with standard keyboards would be quick to embrace touchscreen smartphones with their digital keyboards, but they traded them in pretty fast when the iPhone hit the scene. As for screen size, the lure of mobile apps and the wonderfully light weight will turn many laptop users into tablet converts.

Can tablets replace desktops? I think so. Most people I know use their home PCs primarily for accessing the Internet. Tablets offer great Internet experiences anytime, anywhere. Why be stuck at a desk when you could be laying on the couch? Why buy a computer that’s chained to that desk when you can get one that’s completely mobile? Look at those survey results above: You can do every one of those activities just as easily on a tablet as you can on a desktop. For people who do a lot of word processing, design work or similar software-based work at home, they’ll probably keep using a desktop PC. But there are a lot of desktop PC owners that are going to be looking at tablets when it comes time to replace those big old machines.

Retailer executives who think tablets may be a passing fad or have a low ceiling of users are underestimating a potent new force in personal computing. And when you have 42% of the millions of tablet users out there already shopping online, you’d better be sure you have a rock solid mobile commerce program in place that addresses these new and enthusiastic mobile Internet users. Get ready for what Steve Jobs last month called the post-PC future.

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