01 October 2014

Tablets Are Not "Mobile". They're "Portable"

This has been bugging me for a while.

Tablets — be it the iPad, the Kindle, the Galaxy or anything with a capacitive touchscreen larger than a Pop Tart — should not be considered mobile devices, like smartphones.

Consumer behavior proves it

All Mobile is Portable but
Not All Portable is Mobile
Sure, tablets and smartphones both run on the same "mobile" operating systems like iOS or Android, but people use them differently.  For example, people report accessing the Internet in their living rooms on both tablets (72%) and smartphones (67%), but in out of home situations, the numbers are quite different.  On the daily commute, for example, 49% use their smartphones and only 9% use their tablets.  In Stores, 75% use their smartphones and very few use their tablets.  (All of this research comes from a 2013 Forrester study; see a nice summary here.)

Why does this matter?  Follow the Money

Likewise, not all mobile ad spending is created equal.  When you hear things like "Mobile advertising spend will be about $18 Billion globally in 2014" you need to think beyond tiny, unreadable banner ads on a smartphone.  Those big numbers also include banner ads and video pre-roll that are better seen on a tablet.  That $18 Billion also includes a lot of Paid Search, which is a natural ad medium on the tablet, and a lot of Messaging, which is a natural ad medium on the smartphone.

Google Agrees:  Tablets Are Not "Mobile"  

In an SEC filing last January, Google admitted that as tablets became more ubiquitous, "their usage had much more in common with desktops than with handsets".  Going further, they said "the meaning of 'mobile' at Google has shifted dramatically to 'handset' from 'tablet + handset'."  Why tell the SEC?  Because it affects how they report their very considerable ad revenue.  It also affects how they might collect revenue in the future:  This was the same SEC filing that grabbed headlines like "Google Will Advertise on Thermostats".  So the definition of "Mobile" also matters to Google, but it goes way beyond tablets to the so-called Internet of Things, or in Google's case, the Internet of Things That Collect Ad Revenue.

God bless them.  As long as they start referring to tablets as "portable" devices.

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