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Will Tablets Spawn New Use Cases?

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 (s aapl), 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.

3 Responses to “Will Tablets Spawn New Use Cases?”

  1. Great data! I love posts that are chock full of data. Nice job.

    I’m fairly certain that a big part of the reason users cite personal over professional use by such a wide margin is the lack of tablet-ready business apps. Here’s a list of lists compiled by different publications that rank useful iPad business apps. There are no major operational apps listed in any of the lists.

    For fun, here’s a look at a lumber business that is running a lot of formerly non-connected processes via the iPad and Smartsheet.

  2. Hildy, point well taken. In fact, had the above chart included other mobile devices (laptops, smart phones, e-readers, etc.), the usage profile across activities would look quite different. Given interest in the impact of tablets on sales and use of other devices, we also asked respondents several questions about other mobile devices, including e-readers. After initial “unaided” questions, respondents were also given a description and set of FAQs about tablets to be sure they had a consistent understanding. Drop me a note if you’d like more info about the survey. (

  3. The one caveat to these surveys is the definition of terms. This survey obviously implicitly or explicitly defined a tablet as a iPad or similar device. Otherwise, the installed base of Nook and Kindle users (which, I believe, surpasses the installed base of iOS and Android tablet users) would have moved “read e-books” much further up the chart.

    For iPad-like tablets, most of it seems predictable. They excel at couch surfing. One blip I would note is the expectation of the 45+ crowd that they do, will, or want to use tablets for phone calls. The only thing that seems to be stopping this is US carrier pricing plans.

    Looking at this survey I think back to an min-March survey by Forrester that showed the number one operating system people wanted on a tablet was Windows. Perhaps I’m prejudiced by my love for my HP Slate, but I wonder if we will see a bifurcation of the tablet market with enterprises adopting Windows tablets like the Slate or other Windows tablets that are coming into the market? With the emphasis on security, I would not be surprised to see enterprises allow Windows tablets onto their LANs but bar iOS or Android because they don’t run the corporate security/configuration suites of software.