Research: Small Screens Better For Content; Bigger Screens For Productivity

The tablet market is still in its relative infancy and has been largely dominated up to now — both in sales and basic concept — by the iPad from Apple (NSDQ: AAPL). But that could be changing in the year ahead, and those making tablets are thinking about what might be the best form factor for their devices. Some research out today sheds some light on what screen sizes are proving to be more or less useful for specific activities.

New research from NPD In-Stat — covering how hardware form factors determine device usage — concluded that there are optimal uses for certain screen sizes. Larger screens, it found, were better for “productive” needs. Smaller screens were better for communication and entertainment.

The majority of tablets that have sold have screen sizes between nine and eleven inches, said In-Stat. The most common uses for them at the moment are web browsing, email, and app usage — which In-Stat categorizes as productivity. In-Stat said that smaller screens more more likely used for entertainment such as video or music consumption. That’s not to say that the bigger devices were not used for these purposes, but since In-Stat was also evaluating ownership of portable media players, smartphones and other mobile devices, the results may have been skewed. One way that results did not skew, however, was to find that smaller screens were better for productivity than larger ones.

The research is based on responses from 652 “technology users and decision makers”, which isn’t exactly a comprehensive number,

But these conclusions, if they are accurate, could serve to highlight and partly (but not completely) explain why some tablets have not done so well on the market. Three examples in particular, the Streak five- and seven-inch-screened models from Dell, and the seven-inch-screened PlayBook from BlackBerry, were theoretically aimed at least in part at the enterprise market — core customer bases for the two brands. But according to In-Stat’s conclusions that plan would have never worked: those tablets are just too small for productivity uses (or at least what people expect to use for productivity purposes at the moment).

There have been a lot of different estimates for what kind of market share the 9.7-inch-screen iPad from Apple has at the moment but even one of the more conservative still gives it a majority of the market through the end of this year.

T. Michael Walkley, an analyst at Canaccord Genuity, estimates that Apple started out 2011 with more than 80 percent of the tablet market worldwide but the last year has taken that down to just over 63 percent. Competition from Amazon (NSDQ: AMZN), Samsung, Asus, HTC, LG (SEO: 066570) and even Nokia (NYSE: NOK), he predicts, will impact Apple’s share once again, although Apple will still have 52.4 percent of the market at the end of this year.