Will Tablets Spawn New Use Cases?

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Five years ago, which seems like a lifetime in mobile, as part of a survey for a mobile operator we at Institute for Mobile Markets Research (IMMR) asked consumers to rank applications for which they were likely to use smart phones. Among the options, “program your DVR” was ranked near the bottom of a long list of then nascent applications. When our teenage son recently got a new iPad, imagine my surprise, then, when he discovered on the first day that he could use the iPad to program the DVR in our den. While initially impressed, we were less thrilled when from another part of the house he changed the channels on the TV we were watching.

Anticipating how new technologies will be used, especially new form factors such as tablets, is difficult. As the tablet market grows beyond early adopters, tracking actual and expected uses over time will be important. Data from the recent IMMR tablet study with a national sample (n = 1,014) show how individuals expect to use tablets, which in turn influences the various tablet hardware models and features they are apt to purchase.

Here’s a summary of findings most relevant to expected uses:

  • Where Consumers Expect to Use Tablets. When asked what percentage of time they expect to use tablets in each of four locations (home, in transit, work and other locations), home was the favorite by a wide margin (53 percent, on average, vs. 17 percent, 12 percent and 17 percent, respectively, for the other three locations). Given this, it’s not surprising most respondents say they would also choose a tablet with Wi-Fi and forgo the added monthly expense of 3G, which in turn will reinforce where and how tablets are used.
  • Will Tablets be Used for Personal or Business Uses? Three out of four respondents say they expect to use a tablet for “Nearly all Personal Uses” or “More Personal than Business.” Only 1 percent expect to use a tablet “more for business than personal.” A sizable group – one in five – expects to use a tablet for both personal and business use.
  • Expected Tablet Uses. We showed respondents a list of 29 potential uses and asked them to select the top five for which they would be most likely to use a tablet. Interestingly, the two top-ranked uses – email and search – are the same across all age groups. After the top two, the next most popular anticipated uses vary, with young adults much more likely to (expect to) use tablets for games and social media, while older individuals expect to use tablets for more functional purposes (e.g., getting information, checking financial accounts, etc.). These differences mirror usage patterns on other PCs and smart phones in general.
  • Will Tablets Evolve from Shared to Personal Devices? Like desktop PCs (remember those?) and other household appliances, households could purchase a tablet that’s shared among family members. Alternatively, tablets might be viewed more like a laptop or smart phone, e.g., personal devices bought for and used by individuals. Of course, the latter represents a much larger market (2-3x), so the question is an important one. When asked the likelihood (0-100 percent) of purchasing a tablet within the next 12 months, among current tablet owners, the average is 40 percent, twice that of individuals who haven’t yet purchased a tablet (20 percent). We think this suggests tablets will follow the path of smart phones, with households purchasing multiple tablets and individuals having and using their own tablets, particularly as prices drop to mass-market levels. That said, with web-cams, “always on,” portability and other features, tablets are likely to be the most social of all devices.

Do these results reflect what users will actually do with tablets? Time will tell. Novel new applications and features will lead to new uses and shape user experience and expectations. As the inventor of the cell phone, Martin Cooper, recently observed, “how could anyone have anticipated in 1973 that one day you could get the internet on your cell phone? There was no internet!”

How do you think the next wave of users will use tablets? As individuals personalize tablets with apps and content, will they be willing to share with other family members? What compelling new applications will leverage the unique features of tablets and spawn new uses? Share your views in the comments section below.

Dr. Phil Hendrix is head of the Institute for Mobile Markets Research (immr), a research organization based in Atlanta that helps companies better understand and capitalize on opportunities presented by disruptive technologies. He combines a unique blend of research skills (qualitative and quantitative), industry knowledge, and experience to help clients devise, validate, and implement innovative, market-driven strategies. Dr. Hendrix is also a frequent contributor to GigaOM Pro research reports and webinars.

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