News Flash! Tablets Are Not Smartphones

You probably already knew this, but a new report from Forrester wants to emphasize this seemingly obvious point: Tablets are not simply larger touchscreen smartphones. There are significant difference in where people use them, how they use them and for how long - all of which have big implications for app developers, marketers, tablet makers and a lot of other folks.

As the table market continues its white-hot growth - nearly 50 million tablets were sold last quarter alone - these differences will force  both innovation and disruption in publishing, advertising, retail, gaming and work, as people optimize apps, media and services specifically for tablet use.

Tablet Usage: The Little Differences 

The majority of tablet users use their gadgets primarily in the living room and bedroom of their homes. This is true even for tablets with cellular connectivity, not just Wi-Fi. 

Even outside the home, Forrester's data reveal that tablet usage is concentrated in "fixed" locations. These include coffee shops, airports and hotels.

Whereas smartphones are highly personal devices, used mostly "on-the-go" and in short "snackable" sessions, tablets are more likely to be shared with others inside the home. Tablets are also used for longer stretches of time. 

Forrester's data also show that tablet users are wealthier and better educated than typical smartphone users. In addition, tablet users are more likely to discuss their opinions of products on social media and other online services.

Forrester's research also reveals the versatility of these devices. Reading, email, watching video, playing games and taking pictures are all common activities. Across their 15 primary activity categories, browsing the web was most common - undertaken by 68% of individuals polled in Forrester's survey - and note-taking was least common, though still undertaken by a respectable 26% of respondents. At present, there is no one specific task driving people to purchase a tablet.

Though the market is relatively new, the report also suggests that users will embrace tablets for controlling numerous home-based technologies - such as entertainment systems, energy monitoring and more. 

Tablets As Second Screens

Tablets are preferred over smartphones as the "second screen" - i.e., as something else to look at while the TV is on. And it turns out that people also use tablets and smartphones differently as second screens. 

According to Forrester's data, web browsing, product research and watching videos online are all more likely to be tablet-based second-screen activities. Social networking and chatting while watching television, however, are the province of the smartphone.

This raises an intriguing possibility: Tablets might actually have a big impact television advertising. As a second screen, tablets offer advertisers new possibilities for integrating their marketing efforts across seemingly disparate media. Some app makers are already jumping on this bandwagon.

For instance, Shazam just updated its "what's that song" app to tag and identify live TV events by "listening" to them. On one hand, that lets the app provide more information about the show or sports game you're watching, including links to related information. On the other, though, the app will also tag the commercials, potentially opening up a new way for advertisers to reach you through the tablet as well as the big screen.

It's not all about play, either. The Forrester study found the people actually report using tablets for "work" surprisingly often. A full 58% of surveyed users report spending an average of 2.5 hours per day on their tablets for work from home. There is, of course, a possibility of responder bias; some people might be inclined to say they're working on their tablets even if they're not.

Assuming those numbers are solid, though, that finding could provide an opening for makers of apps and even tablet hardware focused on personal productivity. Wait, did someone just say... Microsoft?