Tablet Computer Adoption: Fast and Furious

Tablets are growing faster than smartphone adoptionThe tablet computer hasn’t been around long at all.  But it’s making a huge splash in the digital arena … and giving not only laptops but also smartphones a run for their money in the bargain.

Consider these data points as reported on recently by Mark Donovan, a senior vice president at comScore, a leading Internet cyber-analytics firm:

  • Tablet adoption is happening significantly faster than what was experienced with smartphones.
  • The majority of iPad users don’t own an iPhone or some other type of smartphone.
  • Tablet “early adopters” are equally male and female – a departure from the norm which typically finds early adopters of new digital technology being primarily young men.
  • There is very high usage of tablets for shopping, watching video, and other media consumption. That’s also a departure from what was experienced with smartphones, where it took much longer for consumers to become comfortable shopping from their smartphone devices.
  • People use tablets and smartphones differently – and at different times. For example, smartphone usage peaks during the day whereas tablets are used more in the evening.

That tablets are making big gains on laptop computers is no surprise at all, considering their lighter weight, nearly effortless portability, brighter screens, and the ease of using them in environments not conducive to a keyboard-and-mouse (like in bed).

But of the trends noted above, I think the most intriguing one pertains to tablet computer usage versus smartphones – specifically, how tablets are becoming an alternative to smartphones rather than an adjunct.

Indeed, it seems as if some people aren’t making the transition from feature phones to smartphones that everyone expected; they’re opting for tablets instead. We may see the adoption rates for smartphonesbegin to flatten out as a result.

Indeed, Adobe Systems reported in May 2012 that tablet traffic is growing at a rate ten times faster than smartphone traffic.

But if you really think about it, maybe these latest developments aren’t so surprising: Many folks have long complained about the “miniaturization” of display screens that are a necessary evil of mobile phones. Now that the tablet has come along, there’s finally an effective solution to that dilemma – and the market has responded accordingly, blowing away even the most optimistic sales forecasts for tablets.

The Mobile Web: Great Promise + Growth Pains

It’s clear that the mobile web is a big growth segment these days. Proof of that is found in recent Nielsen statistics, which have charted ~34% annual growth of the U.S. mobile web audience, now numbering some 57 million visitors using a mobile device to visit web sites (as of late summer 2009).

And now, a new forecast by the Gartner research firm projects that mobile phones will overtake PCs as the most common web access devices worldwide … as early as 2013. It estimates that the total number of smartphones and/or browser-enhanced phones will be ~1.82 billion, compared to ~1.78 billion PCs by then.

Gartner is even more aggressive than Morgan Stanley’s prediction that the mobile web will outstrip the desktop web by 2015.

So, what’s the problem?

Well … consumer studies also show that web surfing using mobile phones continues to be a frustrating experience for many users. In a recent survey of ~1,000 mobile web users, web application firm Compuware/Gomez found that two out of every three mobile web users reports having problems when accessing web sites on their phones.

Because people are so used to fast broadband connections – both at home and at work – it’s only natural that their expectations for the mobile web are similarly high. To illustrate this, Gomez found that more than half of mobile phone users are willing to wait just 6 to 10 seconds for a site to load before moving on.

And what happens after they give up? Sixty percent say they’d be less likely to visit the site again. More importantly, ~40% report that they’d head over to a competing site. As for what would happen if the mobile web experience was as fast and reliable as on a PC, more than 80% of the respondents in the Gomez study claim they would access web sites more often from their phones.

For marketers, this means that to maximize their success in the mobile world, they should reformat web sites to conform to the small-form factor of handheld devices. And Gartner also notes that “context” will be the king of the hill in mobile – more than just “search” – in that it will deliver a personalized user experience. New functionalities such as Google’s “Near Me Now” are providing information on businesses, dining and other services that are in the proximity of a mobile user’s location. These and other innovations are opening up whole new dimensions to “seeking and finding” in the mobile web world.