Who are the tablet-first pioneers? [TUPdate]

Dan Ness, Principal Analyst, MetaFacts, May 2, 2019

Will tablets go mainstream, so much so that they’re the first device consumers reach for? A persistent yet small group of Americans use their tablet more than a smartphone or PC. Are the rest missing something? Might this edge group grow?

The size of the tablet-first segment

Over the last five years, the share of connected adults using a tablet as their primary device grew and then shrunk.

This is based on results from five years of our TUP/Technology User Profile study, each wave with over 7,500 representative respondents in the US.

In our 2014 wave of TUP, we found that 5.6% of adults were using a tablet as their primary device – before a PC, mobile phone, or game console. In TUP 2016, the tablet-first rate had grown to 9.3%, or one in 11 online adults. By TUP 2018, this dropped to 7.5%, or nearer to one in 13 online adults.

What other devices do they use?

Tablet-first users may choose to first use their Tablet, yet most have other devices to choose from. Nearly two-thirds of tablet-first users (62%) regularly use a PC, and almost three-fourths (74%) regularly use a Smartphone. They have other mobile devices, such as a Notebook (35%) or Desktop (47%).

Growing tablet reliance among the stalwart tablet-first

Most tablet-first users have more devices than their tablet – 94% have 2 or more. Seventy-five percent have 3 or more connected devices they regularly use.

Over the last three years, this number has shrunk somewhat. While in 2016 tablet-first users used an average of 4.3 connected devices, this number has dropped to 3.8.

What are these tablet-first tablets being used for?

Tablet-first users fully enjoy them. The users of Tablets as their primary device are busy with their tablets, checking email, shopping, having fun, and social networking. Over half of adults using a tablet as their primary device regularly use it for a wide range of activities. While checking personal email ranks at the top, shopping is nearly as strong.

What’s notably absent from the list of major activities are more-intensive productivity or graphical activities such as creating presentations. Most of the activities so far are more passive than actively creative.

That may seem odd to Apple-watchers, since much of the iPad’s advertising and development has featured the Apple Pencil for drawing and sketching, as well as creative video apps. Samsung has similarly touted their S-Pen for their Galaxy Tabs. It looks like the installed base hasn’t quite caught the creative bug, since these are relatively recent additions and emphases. Or, more likely, it’s harder to inspire the less-creative to start creating than it is to attract creative types.

Looking ahead

I don’t expect the tablet-first segment to grow beyond being a small group. Size is a key dimension affecting the future of tablets. As smartphones get larger, tablets will continue to be affected. The largest smartphones are encroaching on the size of the smallest tablets. Also, as companies such as Apple position tablets as computers, and those like HP and Dell create 2-in-1 and convertible designs, there’s likely to be further user confusion.

Tablet-first users are functioning well with a broad collection of devices, so it seems unlikely that one single device will capture their hearts and fingers.

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