Tablet computers such as Apple’s iPad are transforming how people interact with brands and content, with their owners spending more money online and consuming a greater amount of media than those using just laptops and mobile phones, according to research by Total Media.
The average UK tablet owner spent £97 online in the past three months. That is higher than the national average of £79, and also exceeds average online spending by the affluent ABC1 demographic (£88) and by people who just own smartphones (£89), according to the report seen exclusively by Marketing Week.
Owning a tablet changes consumer behaviour significantly, with 52% of owners saying they would never be without one. Only 23% disagree.
Tablets serve different functions from other devices – and primarily one of entertainment, judging by qualitative research carried out in tandem with the quantitative study.
Total Media’s six-person focus group, who were monitored for a year, quickly warmed to tablet technology, according to head of research Claire Baker. “They all concluded that it gives you something different from a laptop or a smartphone. At the beginning of the year they were saying they would never pay that much money for something, but they had changed their minds at the end of the year.”
As well as spending more money shopping, tablet owners are also more likely to use them for most types of media consumption, compared with people using smartphones.
Baker comments: “Once you have a tablet, video, games, reading books and streaming TV all begin to increase. Again, that is something that very much came through in the qualitative research. Two people did not previously use social networks, but started using Twitter because they had a tablet.”
This increase in media consumption is particularly pronounced in the case of video content. Tablet owners are much more likely to watch video clips, catch-up TV, live TV and films than smartphone users, while owning a tablet increases overall consumption of these media over different devices.
Just over half of tablet users also play games on the device, making it their third most common activity after web browsing and emailing. The business opportunity on tablets is therefore obvious for game developers such as Zynga (see The Frontline, above). Smaller percentages of people use their laptops or smartphones for gaming, and they also spend less time doing it.
Similarly, only 10% of smartphone owners use their devices to read books, while 48% of tablet owners take advantage of the larger screen size to do so.
But although 31% of tablet owners read books for at least half an hour a day on the device, 47% of all consumers spend at least that time reading hard-copy books and 68% of ereader owners do so with Kindles and similar products. While very few people are likely to buy a tablet specifically to read books, these figures suggest that the reading experience on a tablet still falls below those of print and the Amazon Kindle’s E Ink display.
A third of tablet owners also read magazine content on the device. Although that figure means they are more likely than smartphone and desktop or laptop owners to read magazines, it is less common than other kinds of mass media consumption on tablets.
Baker explains: “Magazines apps, more often than not, have a cover price, whereas video clips and TV on demand do not. TV lends itself very well to the tablet because the content that exists migrates to the screen in almost the exact same way. A lot of magazine publishers have also migrated their content onto the screens, but most have yet to exploit all the functionality and improved experience that the tablet offers.
“From a consumer’s point of view, it is much more natural behaviour to watch video on a tablet as you would on any other screen. You have to learn to interact with magazines in a different way from how you did before.”
Newspapers and other news organisations can be more optimistic than magazine publishers, but cautiously so. The majority of tablet owners check the news at least once a week, and 19% do so daily. However, 28% never do, and people also seem unconvinced by the value of news apps. Only a quarter of tablet owners regularly use apps from national newspapers, and 55% have never downloaded one. This compares with the two-thirds of tablet owners who have never downloaded a magazine app.
It is a different story when it comes to catch-up TV apps, which are used regularly by a third of tablet owners and have been tried at least once by a further 28%.
Baker says that confusion about the content of news apps emerged among focus group members, which could explain the low use. “There were frustrations in our qualitative study that they read the news via the app but were worried they had missed something because they weren’t sure everything in the news was in the app. So they would go and check the web as well. People were noticing differences.”
She adds that people found it hard adjusting their behaviour from their normal website browsing habits when adapting to apps. Those who came to realise that apps could offer an enhanced experience did so slowly, while others continued to prefer using the mobile web.
While tablets represent significant commercial opportunities for creators of media content, many still haven’t made full use of this platform. Tablet owners’ consumption levels are higher than most other groups of people, but media companies still have to resolve strategic decisions about developing for apps or the mobile web, and will need to design content formats with tablets specifically in mind.
More innovation and tablet-specific applications are likely to evolve as the number of tablets on the market increases. At that point, lower-priced options will allow mainstream penetration. For now, Apple’s premium-priced iPad dominates the market, so the possibilities might not all be realised for some time.
10% of tablet owners use their device for between three and four hours a day
4% of tablet owners play games on their device for between two and three hours a day
19% of tablet owners use their device to read or look at electronic newspapers every day, compared with 5% who read or look at electronic magazines every day
24% of tablet owners have downloaded a national newspaper app to their device and use it often
40% of tablet owners use their device to access catch-up TV services
50% of tablet owners have never downloaded an app that allows live TV streaming onto their device
Director of mobile partnerships
Tablets are natural gaming devices because of their bigger screen, which lends itself to a very immersive gaming experience. People want to spend more time getting themselves into the game. When we do tablet versions, obviously they are optimised specifically for that experience, but we don’t distinguish tablet development from mobile phone development. We want to be where the users are, whether it is a small screen or a bigger screen.
In the US, more than 50% of the top grossing iPad apps are games. That is where users are spending their money. Have iPads become a gaming device, as the research suggests? Yes, but I don’t think Apple or any other manufacturer has ever said that these are dedicated gaming devices. It is the nature of the evolution of where the hardware is going, and the immersive screen.
We are on the iPad, we are on Android tablet devices and the Kindle Fire, so we definitely want users to have a good quality, optimised experience on whichever device they are on. It is a strategy for many web companies that if they are not on all these devices yet, they definitely are considering it and will be there. You can’t ignore the growth of the tablet. You can’t ignore the growth of the mobile phone either, or how people use it. If you are not there, you should be.
Touch Press is trying to pioneer highly interactive books. One example is our Solar System title that we did for the iPad about a year ago. It is a 150-page book that not only allows you to move through the story of the planets and solar system page by page, but on any of these pages you can drop out of the book and into a 3D model of the solar system. The app has been downloaded about 100,000 times and is now also a hardback book based on the text from the app.
We are currently working on a project with Shakespeare’s sonnets, where we have all the 154 sonnets performed by an amazing group of actors, including several Hollywood stars. It is a clear example of how the tablet can do something the printed page can’t.
We are also working on a project about a symphony orchestra. You can imagine how music would work very well in this context. As you are reading, you can listen, see a synchronised score and hear commentary. The interactivity on the tablet gives you a new type of medium, but keeping the ethos of the book.
There are some parts of fiction publishing that will be replaced by the ebook, but the highly enhanced interactive book is a new layer that sits in the media landscape alongside an exhibition, a TV series, a feature film or a printed book. They offer another opportunity to reach an audience.
When the world started going digital, we thought that our readers would use our website to read the Economist, but we were wrong. Our research revealed that people enjoy the Economist’s weekly package in a ritual, ‘lean back’, immersive way that is not replicated on the web.
Now, tablets have led to a rebirth of the lean-back experience and changed reader behaviour. For us, it has been much more dramatic than the advent of the internet. That leads me to conclude that our future circulation growth is going to be driven by digital editions.
We now have over 100,000 digital-only subscribers alongside the 7 or 8 million unique visitors we have to the Economist website each month. A lot of people thought the iPad might cannibalise print, but nearly 80% of our digital-only subscribers are new to us and had never subscribed before. That shows the new medium brings new readers. There will be migration, but there is still opportunity to grow.
Our print numbers continue to increase. I am sure that will stop at some point, but I am relaxed about it because what is important is the overall growth in circulation. That will continue, but it will be driven by digital.
At the moment we have gone for the native app route because it provides the classic environment for reading. If you fast-forward a number of years, the obvious alternative is HTML5 web apps. Others, like the Financial Times, have gone down that route. For the magazine reading experience, it is not quite there yet. But if you could have one way of doing it on all devices, that obviously would save a lot of work.