Editor's note: Amy Gahran writes about mobile tech for CNN.com. She is a San Francisco Bay Area writer and media consultant whose blog, Contentious.com, explores how people communicate in the online age.
(CNN) -- Are immigrants to the U.S. more likely than the general American population to adopt tablet computers? New research from Rebtel, a global mobile VOIP provider, indicates that this might be true.
There are about 37 million foreign-born people living in the U.S. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, these first-generation immigrants represent about 12% of the total U.S. population.
In November, Rebtel surveyed 1,340 immigrants residing in the U.S. about their technology habits. In all, 13% reported owning a tablet device, representing about 5 million people in the U.S. Two-thirds of these own iPads -- not surprising, since Apple's tablet has been around the longest and has the strongest global brand presence.
In contrast, a recent Pew study found that only 5% of U.S. adults own a tablet.
Why the disparity? Part of this might be explained by how Rebtel defined "tablet." In its study, this device category includes e-readers like Amazon's Kindle.
It's true that some e-readers have some functionality that's also seen in tablets (especially the Barnes & Noble Nook Color, which can be hacked into an inexpensive Android tablet). But frankly it's a major stretch to consider the Kindle to be in the same device class as the iPad.
In fact, Pew's study differentiated between tablets and e-readers and found that another 5% of Americans currently own an e-reader. So when you add Pew's tablet and e-reader percentages together, they're not very far under Rebtel's estimate.
Still, Rebtel's research begs the question: If immigrants are more likely than the U.S. population at large to buy tablets, why might that be?
Rebtel did not speculate on this. However, it occurs to me that many immigrants to the U.S. come from countries where mobile technology proliferated faster and more profoundly than it did here. This might make immigrants more willing to adopt new mobile technology sooner.
According to Rebtel, tablet ownership figures did vary by nation of origin: "French-Americans claim the highest percentage of tablet owners (17%), followed by Mexican-Americans (15%), Nigerian-Americans, and Ghana-Americans at 14% respectively -- rounded out by Ethiopian-Americans at eight percent and Cuban-Americans at seven percent."
Rebtel also noted nation-of-origin differences regarding whether immigrants would purchase a tablet in the near future. Immigrants from Ghana (62%) and India (58%) were most likely to buy a tablet, while only 34% of French Americans and 31% of Ethiopian-Americans indicated this intention.
The opinions expressed in this post are solely those of Amy Gahran.