Tablets dissolving into a split market [TUPdate]

Dan Ness, Principal Analyst, MetaFacts – January 7, 2021

Active tablet use by country and year

Tablets have been declining in widespread active use over the last five years. Among American online adults, the penetration rate for actively using a tablet has dropped from 60% in 2016 to 36% in 2020. Usage rates have similarly dropped among online adults in the UK and Germany.

While US and UK usage rates have been similar, tablet use in Germany has trailed.

Active iPad use by country and year

Just as overall tablet usage has declined, so has iPad use declined.

However, while overall tablet usage has declined, Apple’s iPad market share has grown as a percentage of tablets in active use. For example, in 2017, 12% of online adults in Germany used an iPad of the 47% of online adults using any tablet, for a nearly 25% share. By 2020, while iPad usage had declined to be 10% of German online adults, the percentage using any tablet was 31%, making the iPad’s market share closer to 33%.

Meanwhile, in the US, the iPad’s share has grown only slightly. In 2016, 60% of online American adults actively used a tablet, and 28% used an iPad, giving the iPad a 47% share. By 2020, this market share had risen to a 56% share, with 20% of online Americans using an iPad of 36% using any tablet.

Age of the tablet active installed base by country and year

Actively used tablets are newer ones. The mean age of actively used tablets in the US is 2.3 years, somewhat more recent than the 2.4 average in 2017. The same pattern is taking place among online adults in Germany in the UK. Among German adults, tablet age rose from 2.7 years in 2017 to 2.4 in 2020.

Hourly usage of tablets

Tablet usage intensity has grown, although that’s partly due to an artifact. As the percent and number of online adults using tablets have declined, the remaining active users are those most reliant on their tablets. Among German online adults, the average (mean) hours using tablets has increased from 9 per week to 10.5. However, this usage still lags far behind how intensely online adults in the US and the UK use their tablets.

Tablet penetration by household size

Declining tablet usage has been more pronounced in some households. Larger households have maintained more substantial tablet usage levels than smaller homes.

iPad penetration by household size

Apple iPads are similar to other tablets concerning the size of household. Apple iPads are used more often in larger homes than in smaller ones, confirmed for the last five years and across the US, Germany, and the UK.

Top tablet activities by country

Since usage levels are different in Germany than they are in the US or the UK, it raises the question – do German users use their tablets differently? A review of the top activities for tablets by country reveals no measurable difference in its most-used tablet activities.

Online adults across the US, the UK, and Germany use tablets passively. The central tablet activities are email, shopping, and entertainment.

iPad/non-Apple tablet association

More Germans use Android smartphones than use iPhones. The association between the Apple and Google ecosystems impacts the use of iPads, in Germany and other countries.

Among Android smartphone users, the use of non-Apple tablets is much stronger. Conversely, among iPhone users, iPad users outnumber non-Apple tablet users.

Although there is some integration of tablets and smartphones, it is not profoundly required. Each will operate without the other. Still, both tablets and smartphones work better together when connected to their respective ecosystems. iPads can hand off texts and emails between iPhones, unlike with Android tablets.

Looking ahead

Consumers have perceived tablets as not quite a PC and not quite a smartphone. As smartphone users have migrated to smartphones with larger displays, they have found less incremental value in a tablet with a large screen. Simultaneously, as online adults have migrated more of their activities to their smartphones, they have relied on their PCs for larger-screen activities. Many have abandoned their tablets. Those still using tablets have used them for fewer and fewer activities, and the few they use them for aren’t unique to tablets.

Tablets will still have a place as a supplemental device for adults that focus on technology in larger households. Separately, tablets will also find a home as a primary connected computing device for those with constrained means and limited needs. However, this market segment is being actively targeted by low-end notebooks such as Chromebooks, making high-end tablets such as an Apple iPad Pro look less attractive.

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