1-in-5 U.S. consumers plan to buy Apple's iPad

Current owners report satisfaction numbers in the 'nose-bleed' range, says pollster

Positive press and word of mouth from very satisfied owners has convinced one-in-five U.S. consumers to buy an Apple iPad, a survey published today said.

In a poll of nearly 3,400 consumers, ChangeWave Research found that 7% are "very likely," and 13% "somewhat likely" to buy an iPad at some point. Those numbers, noted Paul Carton, ChangeWave's research director, are significantly higher than the 4% and 9% who answered the same way in a February survey taken after Apple CEO Steve Jobs had unveiled the media tablet, but before it went on sale in early April.

While 19% of those who plan to purchase an iPad said that they would do so in the next 90 days, the majority of consumers who want an Apple tablet will buy one in six months or more. And that has to make Apple happy this holiday season.

"Apple's going to have an iPad holiday," said Carton. "We'll see a holiday spending wave on the iPad."

Of the consumers who said they plan to buy an iPad, 24% said they would do so in 6 to 12 months, with another 24% saying they would pull the buying trigger in 12 to 24 months.

The reasons polled Americans gave for wanting an iPad "cuts across the board," said Carton, and range from its e-reader capabilities (15%) and portability (15%) to ease of Internet access (8%) and as a PC or smartphone replacement (7%).

Word of mouth from satisfied iPad users may also play a part. According to a second ChangeWave survey that polled 153 current iPad owners, more than nine out of 10 are pleased with the purchase. Nearly three-fourths (74%) said they are "very satisfied" with their iPad, while another 17% said they were "somewhat satisfied."

"Apple is reaching the kind of nose-bleed satisfaction numbers of iPhone owners," said Carton. "A 91% satisfied rating is a very good beginning for Apple, to say the least."

A ChangeWave poll last fall put the iPhone "very satisfied" and "somewhat satisfied" total at 99%, a number that Carton said at the time was "on a different planet" compared to rival smartphones.

But not everything is hunky-dory with the iPad, said Carton.

When tablet owners were asked to name their pet peeves, they tagged the lack of support for Adobe Flash, which received 17% of the vote, as the number one gripe.

Close behind at 9% each were problems with Internet connectivity -- ChangeWave conducted its poll before the 3G model arrived, so all current owners were commenting on the WiFi-only tablet -- and keeping the screen clean of smudges and fingerprints.

Apple and Adobe have waged a very public war over Flash on the former's mobile devices, including the iPad, so it's no surprise that the omission of one of the Web's most popular media formats made the top of the complaint list. Nor is it a shock that connectivity received votes: Users have complained about weak wireless signals , dropped connections and slow surfing speeds since the WiFi-only iPad started shipping.

Apple has promised to issue a fix for the connectivity problems, but has not set a delivery timetable.

"But there's no smoking gun," said Carton, referring to the low numbers of iPad owners who had a complaint about Apple's tablet. "There's nothing here reaching the 25%-30% mark, nothing here that stands out."

Even so, Apple would be smart to add a camera to the next iPad , if ChangeWave's survey of existing owners is accurate. Nearly a third -- 29% to be exact -- named a camera as the feature most missed. Those polled tagged a lack of USB ports as the No. 2 AWOL feature (14%), while the omission of Flash and lack of printing capability tied at No. 3 with 10% each.

"The one thing jumping out is the lack of a camera," said Carton, who added that the high number may translate into a camera-equipped iPad "sooner than most people might thing. That's an important piece missing."

According to a pair of reports on leaked next-generation iPhones , Apple's expected summer smartphone upgrade will feature a pair of cameras, including a front-facing one that will be instrumental in boosting video telephony and video chat.

: The "smoking gun" of missing iPad parts is a camera, according to polled owners. (Image courtesy of ChangeWave Research)

Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld . Follow Gregg on Twitter at @gkeizer or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed . His e-mail address is gkeizer@ix.netcom.com .

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