Tablets – Highlights

Dan Ness, Principal Analyst, MetaFacts, April 14, 2021 

A person using a tablet computer-from the cover of the Tablets Lens from TUP 2020

Tablets – executive summary 

Over the last five years, tablets have been fading from widespread use despite their increasing power and usefulness. Ten years earlier, surviving a direct attack by heavily subsidized media tablets (Amazon’s Kindles), the product category continues to be under threat. Current threats feature substitutes. As larger smartphones reach broader market acceptance, any benefit from having a larger screen is relatively weakened. As lighter instant-on laptops, convertibles, and 2-in-1s grow into favor, any perception of tablets being less-than PCs becomes a roadblock. 

Tablets are being used similarly to home PCs, typically enjoyed for passive personal activities, such as watching movies or browsing the Internet. Tablet users, however, have not fully embraced tablets as often as home PCs, still using them for many activities such as creating personal graphics or collaborating on personal files. There are very few activities unique to tablets that aren’t being used on home PCs – reading a book or taking pictures – each of which are themselves not widespread activities. In fact, many people taking photos with a tablet are mocked or derided.  

Apple continues to reign as the champion of tablets, dominating most markets in tandem with its iPhone market share. iPads don’t require an iPhone to function, although there is a strong association. Apple iPhone users have a higher percentage of iPad use, and simultaneously, Android smartphone users have a lower iPad share.  

Samsung, the non-Apple smartphone market leader, has managed to claim and defend the number two share of the installed base in many countries. Samsung’s tablets have fared best among Android smartphone users looking to enjoy any ecosystem benefits. 

Apple has continued to bolster its services to encourage the iPad as a mainstay of any Apple fan’s collection. Fitness+ and Arcade gaming work much better with an iPad than on an iPhone, if for no other reason than having a larger display. Designating an iPad as a home automation hub helps with HomeKit and HomePods. So far, market reception of these specific services has not been mainstream. Collectively, however, each incremental offering helps build reasons for Apple’s customers to stay within the fold. The Google Android ecosystem has similar dynamics, also striving to keep its users within its family. 

Cellular tablets have not fared well, although neither have laptops integrated with cellular wireless. Carrier support has not helped iPads as much as they helped with smartphones. Although Apple offers iPads with integrated LTE/4G cellular connections, carriers have primarily promoted cellular tablets as loss leaders to retain postpaid smartphone subscriptions. 

Looking ahead, the opportunities for tablets are four-fold: a replacement market and three market segments: vertical markets, tablet-first users, and device collectors.  

The average age of the active tablet installed base is younger than ever, reflecting the market’s willingness to replace their older tablets. Coupled with a shrinking penetration rate, this indicates a replacement market. 

Vertical markets such as education are a longtime favorite for Apple and teachers alike. However, in education, Apple iPads are experiencing strong competition against Google Chromebooks.  

Tablet-first means using a tablet as your primary connected device. Tablet-first has represented less than 10% of the market and is likely to remain that small. However, this segment is best seen as an onramp for newly-connected adults. As market entrants look for their first connected device for basic activities such as email, schoolwork, and online banking, tablets are an excellent entre.  

Device collectors – those that actively use many connected devices of varied types – are a small and persistent segment. 

Purchase plans for tablets are moderately vigorous, although at only half the rates of plans for PCs and smartphones. 

Tablets – size of the market 

Primacy of tablets 

Between tablet’s increasing functionality and more widely available wireless connections, it’s plausible to consider that users would choose tablets as their primary device – the one they use most of the time. However, that has not happened. Online adults using a tablet as their primary device range between 1% in India to 9% in the UK. Even use as either a primary or secondary device is insubstantial. Among online adults in India, Japan, and China, the rate is less than 10%. It’s conceivable that primary tablet use could increase with some combination of usage that involves a 4G/5G/LTE cellular tablet being used instead of a smartphone as one’s primary device. However, this seems unlikely any time soon since users rely so strongly on their smartphones. 

Chart: TUP_doc_2021_0406_devi Tablets as primary or secondary device 

Tablets squeezed by other devices 

Other devices have pressured tablets. While the penetration of mobile PCs has increased or remained flat, tablet penetration has declined. Meanwhile, the penetration of smartphones has continued to rise. 

From: TUP_doc_2021_0404_form Shifting choice of connected devices 

Age of the active installed base of tablets 

The current mean age of tablets in the US is just over two years. At 2.3 years, tablet age is slightly down from 2017 when it was 2.4. Users in Germany and the UK have been keeping their tablets longer than Americans while also using never tablets than three years earlier. 

From: TUP_doc_2020_1017_age_ Age of actively used tablets 

Profile of tablet users 

Tablets skew towards larger households 

Households with three people have a higher tablet use rate than those with only one or two persons. Those with four or more people have even higher rates. This size-associated penetration is positive and accurate in the US, Germany, and the UK. During the last five year’s decline in tablet penetration, it is not as if more broadly penetrated large households have remained a mainstay. 

From:  TUP_doc_2021_1107_tabl Tablet use by household size 

Tablets among game-players 

Game-playing with tablets 

Game-playing is notable, although incidental, among the passive activities popular with tablets. Tablets aren’t competing with or comparable to the highest-performance gaming PCs and instead are used for casual gaming. 

From: TUP_doc_2020_1124_tabl Tablet game playing by household size 

Tablets in and for education 

There have been many widely publicized volume sales of tablets into schools and other educational organizations. However, among the general population that is TUP’s study universe, we do not find broad use of tablets for educational activities. Although a direct survey of K-12 teachers and students would show different results, if educational use were more substantial, we would expect at least broader use of tablets for education than around one in ten tablets. 

From: TUP_doc_2021_0402_educ Tablets used for educational activities 

Tablets in the installed base 

Tablets are not the only devices being used – by a long shot. From the active collection of PCs, mobile phones, tablets, and game consoles, tablets only make up 10% of devices. Around half of tablets are being used by adults actively using five or more devices, a similar share using devices of any type. However, tablets are hardly being used by any adults using only one or two connected devices. 

Chart, bar chart

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From: TUP_doc_2021_0330_devi Connected Devices by Type 

Tablet activities 

How tablet usage has changed 

People are using tablets more intensively, even while fewer people are using them. Among those using tablets, activity levels have increased, as shown by the average number of hours they use tablets. 

From: TUP_doc_2020_1024_aver Average hours using a tablet 

How tablets are used 

Tablet activities by country 

Tablets are well enjoyed for a wide variety of activities. Many of the top activities are passive – such as browsing the Internet, shopping, watching videos or movies, checking sports scores, or reading news.  

From: TUP_doc_2021_1017_top Top tablet activities by country 

How users choose between tablets and home PCs – or don’t choose 

Fluency and congruency between home PCs and tablets – top activities for both 

To see how tablets compare to home PCs, we looked into users that have both. We then compared the activities which have the highest use on each platform. Among users with both home PCs and tablets, several top activities are similar across each type of device: Internet browsing, checking/sending personal email, and watching videos/movies. There’s a separate group of more home PC-centric activities and little-used on tablets: creating personal graphics/presentations, collaborating on personal files, and searching on personal finance. Conversely, only two activities stand out for being more tablet-centric: reading a book and taking pictures. 

From: TUP_doc_2021_0405_acti Preference for tablet or home PC for activities 

Creative activities with tablets 

Looking specifically into activities that involve creativity shows that tablets are only being used marginally for creative activities. Among eight creativity activities included on the TUP questionnaire, only the general activity “personal creativity” stands out from the others. Collectively, around one in four tablet users regularly do any of the selected activities.  

From: TUP_doc_2021_0403_crea Broad creativity with tablets 

Tablets crowded out by other devices for communication 

Tablets are only nominally used as a singular device for communication – whether voice or written, personal or work-related. Only personal group meetings – such as having group Facetime or Zoom calls – capture over 5% of online adults across the US, UK, Germany, and Japan. While Smartphones are the device of choice for most users, users juggle multiple devices: smartphones, PCs, or tablets for most types of communication.  

From: TUP_doc_2021_0312_comm Device type used most often for communication 

Tablet mobility 

Locations for tablet use 

As mobile as tablets are, they’re mostly used at home. This has been increasingly the case well before the pandemic. Five years ago, tablets were in measurable use in workplaces at public locations such as cybercafés. However, usage has steadily declined since then such that homes are effectively the last remaining location for regular tablet use. 

From: TUP_doc_2020_1129_the_ The mobility of tablets 

Tablets – Competition and substitution 

Apple iPads dominate the tablet market. Non-Apple tablets are lead by Samsung and hardly any other brand.  


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From: TUP_doc_2021_0406_bran Tablet installed base by brand and country 

Apple iPad penetration trend 

Apple’s iPads have declined in use in the US, just as overall tablet penetration has waned. Currently, one in five online American adults use an Apple iPad, down from 28% in 2016. Apple has managed to retain a relatively steady share of Germany and British online adults.  

From: TUP_doc_2020_1121_acti Active iPad use by country and year 

Tablets as part of the user’s device combination 

Tablets are most commonly the third type of device in user’s mobile device collections – being used by users of both notebooks and smartphones. The most widely-used two-device combination is a smartphone and tablet. However, it is not a large segment, being used by just over one in five online American adults. Instead, tablets are found chiefly among users actively using three types of mobile devices.  

From: TUP_doc_2020_1212_mobi Mobility for all ages 

Tablets and the technology ecosystem 

Apple’s iPad has its highest share among Apple’s existing customers – those using either an iPhone or Mac. Around two-thirds of iPad users use an iPhone across the US, Germany, UK, and Japan. This share is substantially higher than among the general online population. Similarly, nearly twice the percentage of iPad users use a Mac than among the general online population. 

From: TUP_doc_2021_0329_appl Mac and iPhone market penetration among iPad users 

Tablet use by operating system and user age 

Apple’s iPad share is not substantially different by age group in the US. It is somewhat skewed towards younger adults in the UK, Germany, and Japan.  

From: TUP_doc_2021_0328_tabl Tablet OS by age generation 

Association between iPhone/Android smartphones and iPad/non-Apple tablets 

There is a positive association between the use of an iPad and an iPhone, just as there is between a non-Apple tablet and an Android smartphone. Online adults that use an Android smartphone are twice as likely to be using a non-Apple tablet than using an Apple iPad. Even more powerfully, users of an iPhone are around four times as likely to be using an iPad than a non-Apple tablet. 

From: TUP_doc_2021_0108_tabl Tablets dissolving into a split market 

Tablet purchase plans vis-à-vis PCs and smartphones 

Tablets are on tech buyer’s minds, especially employees working from home. However, tablets are not at the top of their list. Looking ahead, purchase plans are stronger for laptop PCs and smartphones than for tablets. 

From: TUP_doc_2021_0211_purc Purchase plans among employees working only from home 

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