In 2011, one question sparked more debate than any other in the IAB towers: “Is the tablet a mobile device or a laptop?” As soon as this question comes up, the room splits in half. Someone shouts “ It doesn’t make calls, it’s no way a mobile”, but just as quickly someone retorts “If it runs a mobile operating system- it’s a mobile device”. It’s easy to forget that the iPad was launched only in April 2010- less than two years ago, and already we are scrambling to categorise it in the context of the other devices we own.
With this in mind, the IAB recently undertook the research project “Three Device Lives” to study how tablets are being used by over 600 consumers in the UK. Working with research agency Sparkler, we recruited 413 smartphone and PC owners, and 256 tablet, smartphone and pc owners. We asked them to ‘check in’ to a very short mobile survey every time they used the internet/an app over 2 days so we could understand how they were using these three devices differently.
Immediately, some key differences between the three devices jumped out from looking at usage by time of day. Mobile usage peaks in the evening and morning, PC/laptop during the daytime, and tablets come into their own in the evening. In fact, over half of all tablet interactions happened after 7pm- more on this can be seen in the infographic below
Beyond this though, the research identified that consumers already use their suite of devices to fulfil different needs and roles within their day to day lives. Looking firstly at the group that don’t have a tablet- the laptop/pc is the device for admin and work content, compared to the mobile which dominates for news, social networking and information finding. When you compare this to the group that does have a tablet, there are some changes in the usage of both the PC/laptop and mobile – but most interestingly it seems the tablet appears to be being used for a whole new set of content needs. Retail, video content and entertainment dominate tablet usage- making the tablet a place for ‘laid back entertainment’ that currently neither smartphone nor PC completely fulfils.
It seems that just as those of us who don’t have tablets already use our mobile and PCs for different content needs, tablet owners are repeating this habit by assigning the tablet its own set of usage patterns. With this in mind, I think asking the question ‘is the tablet a mobile or a laptop?’ becomes defunct- much like asking of the television when it was invented ‘is this a magazine or radio?’. Just like the television did, the tablet has carved out its own particular niche amongst those who own them, and has created its own unique place in people’s lives.
After some head scratching at the IAB, we’ve gone so far to say this is how we position the tablet now- not a mobile, not a pc or laptop, but its own distinct platform that needs to be treated as such. So there, let’s put an end to the debate “Is the tablet a mobile device or a laptop?”, and watch with interest how this new platform grows after what will surely be a bumper “Tablet Christmas”.