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Tablets are not mobile devices

Mobile and Tablets.

Both the design agency world and Google likes to pigeonhole tablets as mobile devices, somewhat incorrectly. In fact the tablet is neither, and both at the same time

The smartphone was the big disruptor in 2008 and tablets did something similar 3 years ago and, despite them looking and feeling very similar they perform different functions, albeit under the same umbrella of computing.

As a result, you should not compare a tablet to laptop or a smartphone, as each has it’s own merits, and drawbacks. You could argue that a device with a 27″ screen, that was light, fitted in your pocket, had a keyboard and power to last 2 days would replace all of the devices we currently have – we also know that is unlikely to appear.

Scale, or size, is the driving factor in the three different form factors, and in the tasks and expectations we have for the devices. And that suggests that in an ideal world we’d all have one of each – and more often than not, that’s the case.

The long-term loser in this battle is the laptop, but not for everyone. Most folks don’t need the kind of computing power, screen size or typing throughput that a laptop has. Moreover, the weight and comparatively poor battery life makes it far less flexible than, say, a tablet or even a phone. We had to buy them to access the Internet, type documents and do school work much before 2010 and hence so many were sold.

And most folks cannot do without a phone (a tablet makes a poor phone, at the moment). This may change and the birth of tablet/phone hybrids (Phablets) may persuade a section of the population to compromise on pocket-fit and screen-size to fulfil the function in a single device.

But why have a single device? It’s often supposed that a single device is better than multiples and there is some weight to that argument – it’s often cheaper and sometimes easier to manage. The next 1bn people to “go online” will do so with single devices. Hybrids could well end-up satisfying the poorest end of the market.

Especially as devices now share content, applications and even state, easily and well. Netflix will pick up on the tablet where you started on your phone, Kindle will start at the same page etc. The device used is now environmental, or contextual. You pick you device based on what you are going to do now, in the next 30 minutes and for the rest of the day.

Mobile device and context

Quickly adding a photo onto Flickr is easy to do on phone, and it often slipped into your back pocket so it’s much more convenient than any other method. And, if you were going to plough through your Flickr photo album then the tablet would be best. But, if you were going to do some heavy editing then the laptop would be the weapon of choice.

This is important for marketers, the creators of content, as they need to understand both the intent (or expectation) and the device. The behaviour, location, time spent and depth of interaction is markedly different as shown in the table below (non-bounce traffic only)

Mobile vs tablet vs desktop

Lap/desktop traffic is still about half of the traffic (April 2 years ago was 80% desktop) but the difference in visit profile is quite marked: Tablet visitors stay longer, but visit the same number of pages as desktops; and mobile visitors spend the least amount of time on the time.

So what’s next for the tablet vs mobile

Applications will drive the direction for tablets. Already we’re starting to see fully-fledged, desktop-style, applications appear on tablets; only a year ago we only really saw scaled-up versions of mobile apps. We’re also starting to see cut-down applications for phones, ones that trade simplicity and speed for complexity and comprehensive features.

And this leaves Phablets in an no-mans lands. Or, more likely, the phablet will become the phone giving us a 5 to 6 inch widescreen as standard for smartphones (in our back pocket), 9 inch portable tablets in our backpacks and 12 inch tablets on the sofa at home (or the desk at work, with a pen). This is a prediction, as 12″ tablets don’t really exist in the mainstream except for this monster.

The price points, and therefore spend is important, £4-600 for a phone (or £30 a month), £150-300 for a portable tablet, £400+ for the large tablets. And the apps, power, battery life, robustness and portability will be appropriate for the context and environment. The average household (with 2 kids) is likely to have 4 phones, 3 portable tablets and 1 large tablets giving a rather impressive £2,500 – 3,500 spend.

Usefully, and probably more a function of Microsoft’s poor historical record for device longevity, the average life of the device will exceed 3 years as technology becomes more stable and fewer in-device innovations appear.

Computer professionals will additionally use serious computing power in laptops, probably not in a netbook or MAcAir 11″ format and more likely larger, 15″ screens with serious power. But that doesn’t matter, as those folks don’t drive sufficient sales volume, despite driving the current trends.