In little more than two years, the tablet has gone from an early adopter’s “must-have” to an increasingly common device for consumers, even for those who consider themselves less tech-savvy. Think about it: it was only in 2010 that Apple launched the first iPad, essentially marking the birth of the tablet for the mainstream consumer. There are now variants from dozens of manufacturers available in the global marketplace, and the number of devices continues to grow as products evolve. According to recent Nielsen surveys, a significant percentage of Americans and Europeans now own tablets.
Before owning a tablet, I was reasonably content using a combination of mobile phone and laptop, and reading books the traditional way. Today, I go from board meetings where everyone is using a tablet, to planes where everyone must turn off their “books” for take-off – isn’t that ironic?
I now graciously accept my appointment to the list of people who truly can’t imagine living without their tablet. The convenience alone speaks for itself. I am constantly watching video, reading the news, looking up recipes and sending emails – all on my tablet. I love nothing better than curling up on the couch on a rainy weekend and doing a little digital exploration. Tablets enable discovery, they let me look for new content, new ideas and new experiences…and they let me share them with others in environments that don’t require desks, suits and office chairs. My tablet is rarely far from my side – and that’s just the point. It enhances my interaction with family, friends and colleagues. I also love that it happens to be home to my somewhat scattered taste in music!
In my case, the kids seem to delight in adding applications, movies and TV shows to my tablet! They so naturally interact with it, it’s remarkable. They’re the embodiment of the now common notion that people will gravitate towards the best available screen. If we’re travelling, the best available screen is often my tablet, so sometimes it’s a battle to retain control!
The rapid of adoption of tablets in the US and Europe portends well for other parts of the world. Globally, tablet ownership stands at just 12 per cent, suggesting tremendous growth opportunities for the devices in the years ahead, especially in places such as China, where mobile devices are already the preferred vehicles for accessing the Internet.
Will usage patterns be similar? That remains to be seen. But the US and some European countries already present similar patterns, particularly when it comes to simultaneous usage, that is, using tablets at the same time as using other media, such as watching TV.
The big question some analysts pose is what platform will lose users with the rise of tablets. At this point, the answer is “none.” Thus far, research has found that new devices generally have an additive effect on media usage, i.e., consumers have an insatiable appetite for content and use different devices when and where they are most convenient. A study Nielsen conducted late last year in Hong Kong clearly illustrates how mobile phones and tablets fill different roles for users there. Mobile phones are for communication and information on the go, while tablets also fill those roles but also provide a vehicle for gaming and e-commerce.
Why the tablet is significant
Part of the ongoing discussion about online and mobile content has been the challenge of monetizing it. How can content developers make money on their products which were in many cases previously available to consumers for free? Here’s where tablets provide an answer: most US tablet owners have already paid for downloaded music (62%) and books (58%) to use on their device. Approximately half have paid for movies (51%). Among European countries, Italians are the most willing to pay for media content for their tablet. News is the top content category among the European tablet owners surveyed: 44 per cent of tablet owners in Italy, 19 per cent of tablet owners in the UK, and 15 per cent of tablet owners in Germany say they have paid for tablet news content.
Tablets also are playing an increasingly important role in e-commerce. While smartphones tend to be used by consumers to locate physical stores and for mobile coupons, tablets are the preferred vehicle for doing research about products and making actual online purchases.
The secret of the tablet’s success is that it is successfully bridging the gap between the laptop and the smartphone. It has much of the power and larger screen of the former in a form that is closer to the latter. That combination of form and function has created an ideal platform for delivering and consuming content at home and on the go in a way that increasing numbers of people are willing to pay for.
Where do tablets go from here?
Will tablets continue to be all the rage five years from now? Beyond personal usage, tablets are showing up in numerous commercial environments, from restaurants and shops, to schools and hospitals. To me, it is that level of adoption and ubiquity that defines a real game changer, and leads me to consider getting more tablets in my house, as I now need to pry mine back from my kids!