Tablets and smartphones differences becoming clearer

laptop desktop smartphones

Some days ago Alec Green wrote an interesting article about tablets and mobile devices and called out several reasons to stop calling tablets mobile devices. The behavioural factor is vitally important to understanding how a class of devices will evolve in the future as well as the benefit they offer to end users.

According to Green, tablets cannot be considered proper mobile devices because they are rarely used out of the home or office. This is particularly true for large screen (10’+) tablets such as the iPad or the Samsung Galaxy.  But what about smaller tablets, like for example the Google Nexus 7? For these devices we must take into consideration other factors apart from screen dimension. Tablets without a SIM that are usable only via Wi-Fi cannot strictly be considered mobile devices. Rather, they are devices which are used as an additional source of information or entertainment in certain cases or situations and fit in with the home or office use case.

A tablet that has no SIM card largely has no connection to the Internet outside the home or the office and without a connection it only can be used as a digest of what has already been stored. Also, tablets with a SIM are more expensive and many people prefer not to spend money buying a second SIM card. Sure people can use tethering from their phone but in reality how many are able or bothered to use such a “technical” method with the attendant battery drain on your smartphone while in tethering mode?

Green cites a U.S. report by Localytics according to which “90% of iPads were WiFi only and 6% of all iPad sessions were via a cellular network. For 3G-enabled iPads, 55% of the overall usage comes from WiFi. For 4G-enabled devices, the WiFi percentage jumps to 64%”; in addition mobile analyst Chetan Sharma says that of the 48 million active tablets active in the U.S. only 10% are cellular activated.

Green’s implication is that tablets that do not have a mobile carrier network connection are used only at home, so Google and the advertisers are investing less in them than in ‘true’ mobile devices.

According to comScore’s Mobile Future in Focus report, nearly 50% of smartphone users use their device to look up a local business or directions while tablet users utilize their devices for research or information in the same way they do when they’re on their desktops: smartphones are designed to be used in the hand while (larger) tablets are designed to sit on the table or your lap.

Flurry Analytics released a report a few months ago stating tablet owners tended to use their devices for longer periods of time and more often in the evening (between 7 p.m. and 10 p.m), consuming more media and entertainment than smartphone users for the same reason.

Tablet vs smartphones


Similar conclusions come from Forrester’s new report that reveals that tablets are generally preferred over smartphones as “second screens” to be used, for example, while the TV is on instead of using a laptop.

Analysing this further, we can also see the reason why smartphone screen size are getting larger: people are now aware that some things are better if viewed in larger format so they prefer a smartphone with a screen size closer to a tablet but with data included.

Tablets remain a big slice of the market, but if we consider the Q4 State of Paid Search Report, one of the many reports of its kind, an emerging trend is that tablets are cannibalizing search clicks from desktop because they are, from a behavioural point of view, a replacement or an addition to the traditional home computer, not to smartphones.

Even if as expected, the number of tablets in the U.S. surpasses the 150 million mark making them more popular than desktops and laptops by 2016, mobile phones will still be the most important device when it comes to the mobile experience, for users all over the world. Growth of mobile is expected to be even  higher and the devices are used in a different way for different goals.

Clearly the decision to use one or the other depends on many variables that users will constantly evaluate but for a business it’s useful to know that the usage is as different as the devices are.


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