Ramp Up: Mobile Gear Tops Tech Shopping Lists

KindleFire-Mobile devices are moving to the top of high-tech shopping lists this holiday season, according to a new Yankee Group study. Tablets and e-readers for the first time rank in the top four consumer electronics items that people plan to purchase in the coming weeks, while mobile phones claimed the No. 3 spot.

Laptops and tablets tied as the No. 1 high-tech gift, with 16% of those surveyed citing each as the device they intend to buy. 

This year’s rankings represent a notable shift from 2010, when e-readers and tablets were further down the list -- at No. 8 and No. 10, respectively, in shopping popularity. The percentage of people eyeing a new mobile phone also increased, from 10% to 15% in 2011. Meanwhile, HDTVs and video game consoles -- the top electronics last year -- have dropped to the bottom of the top 10 list. 

The recent rollout of lower-priced tablets, especially Amazon’s $199 Kindle Fire, has helped spur heightened demand in the category that has been dominated the last two years by Apple’s $499 iPad.

According a recent Retrevo survey, the Amazon tablet tied the iPad as the one gadget people hoped most to receive this holiday season. Barnes & Noble’s new $249 Nook Tablet offers another budget-friendly alternative to the iPad.

Apart from the tablet wars, Apple is expected to enjoy strong seasonal sales for the iPhone 4S, which sold a record 4 million units in its opening weekend in October. Industry analysts expect enthusiasm for the latest iPhone model to translate into unit sales of between 26 million and 29.5 million by year’s-end.

“Consumers are making space for electronics in their holiday budgets, despite economic uncertainty,” wrote Katie Lewis, associate analyst at Yankee Group, in a blog post. “With mobility devices at the top of everyone’s shopping list, makers of tablets and e-readers, mobile phones and laptop computers stand to have a good holiday season.”

Growing adoption of mobile devices will also have a knock-on effect for digital content, driving more app downloads, mobile coupon use and mobile transactions. Yankee Group predicts that U.S. consumers will download more than 12 billion apps in 2012, more than a third of which will be paid. Revenue from app stores is projected to grow $6.4 billion over the next two years.

A separate study this month by NPD Group found that electronics overall ranked about the same as last year among the top categories that consumers planned to shop for this holiday. It was No. 6, after clothing, toys, books, movies/DVDs and accessories, with 15% of those surveyed expecting to buy electronics products as gifts. NPD also said that 38% plan to shop online this year, up from 35% in 2010. 

Yankee Group found more than half (58%) of consumers expect to spend less this year on holiday shopping, while 28% expect to spend about the same amount. But smaller budgets will not necessarily erode electronics spending. “Laptops and tablets -- arguably the most expensive mobile devices -- are tied for first place, indicating consumers’ willingness to fork out cash for mobility’s sake,” stated the report.

The study findings were based on data that Yankee Group collected from more than 25,000 people in its 2011 U.S. consumer survey in October, as well as on prior research the firm has conducted.

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