Developers have a distinct incentive to build apps for tablets before smartphones. People use their tablets for longer periods of time and tablet apps are easier to monetize than their smartphone counterparts. And, believe it or not, there is a clear area in the app ecosystem for tablets that is being underserved by developers.
Tablets hold an outsized influence in the gadget economy. There are many more PCs and laptops in the world than tablets (for now). More than a billion people own a smartphones and adoption is proliferating at an exponential rate. In the second quarter of 2013, tablet shipments across the globe were 45.1 million, according to research firm IDC. That is about 19% of the 236.4 million total smartphones shipped in that same period.
Yet tablets see nearly 25% of all mobile usage, according to new stats from analytics firm Mixpanel. People use their tablets for longer periods of time than their smartphones, playing games, reading and using social networks.
If you have built a tablet app that people actually use, there is a good chance it is a game. According to Mixpanel’s latest report, 44% of all tablet usage was for gaming. The next four usage categories (social, education, e-commerce and media) account for a combined 27% of all tablet usage. The remaining 29% is divided between categories like travel, enterprise, music, messaging, photography and health.
“The biggest clear difference between a tablet and a phone is screen size and I think the best apps will find a way to monetize better on the tablet,” said Mixpanel CEO Suhail Doshi. “More importantly, because you have more real estate you can push the boundaries of design as you are not as restricted as you are with the small screen of a phone.”
The easy trap for developers to fall in is to say, “people use games, games make more money, let’s build more games!” Because, you know, when everybody else is doing it, you should be doing it, too.
Not exactly. One of the reasons games do better on tablets (and on smartphones) as a category is because both the Apple App Store and Android’s Google Play have tons and tons of games in their respective repositories. Some of those games (like Infinity Blade or Temple Run) are awesome. Some are soul-depleting time suckers (Candy Crush). It truly is the golden age for mobile game developers.
Which is exactly why developers should look for the underserved categories of tablet apps. Tablets are custom made to be media consumption devices, for instance. Companies like Flipboard, Zite and Netflix serve this area very well. The New York Times and Washington Post both have fairly new updates to their tablet apps for iOS and Android.
But tablets also have great potential for the workers of the world. Mixpanel’s data shows that enterprise-based apps beat only music, messaging, photo & video and dating apps in usage on its network. Health-related apps came in sixth, ahead of travel and enterprise. If you’ve ever used WebMD’s awesome iPad app, you might wonder why health apps for doctors and patients aren’t more of a priority for developers (outside of the draconian but necessary laws about transferring patient data on computers).
Doshi says that enterprise-grade apps like Salesforce are just not meant for smartphones. But tablets? Yeah, that would work much better.
“There is no way you can really use Salesforce on an iPhone. No way. Salesforce could never build an app for a smartphone that would be sufficient for a person in the real world to use,” Doshi said. “One of the biggest aspects of Salesforce is the reporting. Building complex reports on your phone is basically not possible because there is just not enough space to build all the UI components to build a difficult report.”
Mixpanel presents its data as “here are what people are doing, so this is what your opportunity is.” That may be the wrong way to look at it. Media, health, travel, enterprise and music are all market inefficiencies in the tablet app ecosystem. What do developers and entrepreneurs love to do? Correct inefficiency! That makes these app categories opportunities, not areas to be avoided.
That goes double for Android tablets. According to Mixpanel, games account for 68% of overall usage for Android tablets. That’s a monopoly ripe for disruption by aspiring entrepreneurs that want to build great tablet experiences for enterprise, education and media on Android.
The bottom line? The masses (and the data) will tell you to build a game for iOS. That is the way that everybody is zigging. So why not zag and build where no one else is building, where there are still consumers that need those types of apps?
“I think the apps that will start to succeed on tablets are the ones that give you more creative freedom to build something. If you look at Photoshop, for example, you couldn't ever really build Photoshop on your phone. It would just be too complex to do,” Doshi said. “But, you could do it on a tablet because there are more areas that you can build with, more options that you can mess with. I think you could build a more powerful app. I think that is where there where some of these guys in the middle ground can succeed.”