If iPad Users aren't Downloading Apps, What Are They Doing?

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The iPad: a magical tablet of awesome, the fastest-selling gizmo of all time, destroyer of eBook pricing models, bulldozer of netbooks. What can't it do? Well, if you're part of the one-third of iPad owners who haven't downloaded a single app -- not much.

While most iPad owners eagerly gobble up great iPad apps (63 percent), a shocking 32 percent -- or one-third of all iPad owners -- haven't downloaded even one app, according to a Nielsen study. That means no Facebook, no Amazon Kindle, no Weather Channel, no Farmville, no . . . you get the point. This data raises the question: what the hell are these people doing with their tablets?

The iPad comes with these preinstalled apps: App Store, Calendar, Contacts, iPod, iTunes, Mail, Maps, Notes, Photos, Safari, Settings, Videos, and YouTube.

I can imagine wasting time checking e-mail, watching "Inception Cat" over and over on YouTube, um, looking at maps, swiping through photos . . . but other than that, what does an iPad straight out of the box offer over a less-expensive iPod Touch? Have these app-a-phobic consumers blown $500+ on a hunk of glass and plastic, a glorified beer coaster?

Nielsen found that the iPad is mostly used for games (62 percent) and, more heartening for an English major like me, reading eBooks (54 percent). Rah rah, literacy! Games are obviously downloads and though the iPad is touted as a great eReader and Kindle-killer, the iBooks app is not preinstalled. Even if it were, would that 32 percent download eBooks from it? Is the problem that they don't know how? Or perhaps it's the App Store's intimidating number of apps -- 300,000 and counting -- that surround customers with funhouse mirrors and no clue about where to even start.

You might presume that the holdup is that the iPad's main customers are from older generations who perhaps are less keen on tech than their younger counterparts. After all, the Pew Internet and American Life Project found that, as of December 2009, only 38 percent of U.S. adults age 65 and older go online, which may mean they understand it less. But 63 percent of iPad owners are 35 and under . . .

So this leads me to believe two things: 1) many people are purchasing the iPad without an understanding of its capabilities; and 2) the initial drive to buy an iPad is perhaps a vanity twitch, a blind heed of persuasive advertising, or a desire to become part of the early-adopter tech-savvy in-crowd, no matter the overall usefulness or understandability of the purchased product.

Open up that shiny blue App Store app, everyone. It's time to make your iPad worth its weight in credit card strain.

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