A Billion Reasons to Understand App Usage on Tablets

By Lisa Moshfegh, Product Marketing, and Aman Bansal, Flurry Analyst

Over 1 billion tablets are in use globally, according to Statista, with a penetration rate forecasted to surpass 20% of the world’s population within a couple of years. While smartphones and laptops each have higher penetration rates, the tablet still holds a unique position in the market as an in-between form factor.  In particular, it’s known for media consumption, gaming and productivity usage  such as email and document editing. Earlier this year, we reported that as Americans quarantined in the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic, tablet usage increased meaningfully. Given the growth in tablet penetration and usage, this report takes a  look at global tablet trends with a focus on Apple and Samsung tablet usage, which combined make up 80% of the tablet market. 

Flurry Analytics, owned by Verizon Media, is used in 1 million mobile applications, providing insights into 2 billion smart devices worldwide. Let’s begin by reviewing new device activations for both tablets and smartphones since February 2020.

Change in New Device Activations since February 2020

In the chart above, we show the percent change in new tablet and smartphone activations compared to the baseline of February 2020.  February represents the last “normal” month without quarantines, lockdowns, or stay-at-home orders. The blue line represents the change in new tablets activated, and the orange line represents the change in new smartphones activated. 

Most of March was unaffected by the pandemic, which explains why both smartphones and tablets performed at or above the baseline. Tablet activations increased by 7% in March which we believe was driven by the release of Apple’s 4th Generation iPad Pro.  By April, however, much of the world was under some version of a quarantine, working from home increased, and students attended school remotely. In the first two months of the quarantine, tablets did better than smartphones in terms of new device activations, but later fell as economies began re-opening. 

The COVID-19 Tablet Surge

Tablets fared better than smartphones during the first several months of the pandemic, up through June.  We suspect that many people frontloaded their tablet purchases during quarantine since the tablet offers a larger screen and is not considered as portable a device as the smartphone. Given the choice of screens, and knowing that they would remain at home indefinitely, we believe tablets enjoyed a period of increased demand.

Let’s now take a look at how tablet usage varied by application category.

Tablet vs Smartphone Share of App Sessions

In the chart above, we break down the share of app sessions by category for both tablets and smartphones. Tablets are represented by the thinner blue bar and smartphones  by the thicker gray bar. When the blue bar is longer than the gray bar, sessions over index on tablets, and when the gray bar is longer than the blue bar, sessions over index on smartphones. The column on the right shows the percentage point difference in app category usage between tablets and smartphones. 

The three categories with the greatest usage on both tablets and smartphones are Productivity & Utilities, Gaming, and Social. On tablets, the proportion of app sessions on Productivity & Utilities and Gaming are greater than that of smartphones. On smartphones, the share of Social app usage is  greater. 

The iPad Gaming Machine

The greatest  usage difference occurs in Gaming apps, where the share of sessions on tablets is twice that of smartphones, 16% on tablets versus 8% on smartphones. This trend is even more dramatic when we compare Apple’s iPad and Samsung’s Galaxy Tab—the two largest tablet models in the market in terms of market share. The share of gaming on iPads was more than three times that of Galaxy Tabs, indicating consumers' strong preference for iPad as a gaming device. This might be because processing power and display quality both play a key role in the gaming experience, and iPads are generally considered to be superior in both aspects.

Tablets for Education

Overall, we found that the frequency of use (sessions per day) is 20% higher on smartphones compared to tablets. This makes sense because smartphones are always within arm’s reach, making it a more automatic go-to device for digital activity. However, in a few categories, such as Education, the frequency of use was higher by 24% on tablets compared to smartphones, likely due to the increase in distance learning. 

Next, let’s review the age of devices in the market for both tablets and smartphones. In other words, how long do people hold onto their tablets?

Market Share by Age of Device

In the chart above, we present iPhone and iPad market share based on the age of the device model. We chose to analyze Apple smartphones and tablets because there are far fewer Apple models in the market, which shows us a clearer picture. 

Tablet Hoarding

A key insight from this analysis is that users hold onto their  iPads much longer than iPhones. More than 50% of iPads  are 6 years old and older, while only 9% of iPhones are used for that long.  Apple tablet longevity is likely influenced by better battery performance. The battery size in tablets is  much larger and therefore don’t require recharging nearly as frequently. Fewer charging cycles means reduced battery degradation. Additionally, tablets aren’t taken out of the home nearly as frequently as smartphones and likely suffer far less wear and tear.

Vintage Tablets

Comparing the average install base age of iPads to  iPhones, tablets are older. Only 13% of the iPads in the market are less than 2 years old compared to 30% of the iPhones, meaning people replace their smartphones more frequently than they replace their tablets. The cost to purchase a new tablet likely plays a role with an  iPad costing about the same as a higher end iPhone. And since tablets are often considered a secondary device while the smartphone is considered a primary device, tablets are more of a “nice to have” purchase. Calculating the correlation between consumer spending and tablet share per country, we found a moderately high positive correlation (+0.65) exists, meaning that countries with higher spending power, and therefore more disposable income, are more likely to have a higher share of tablet ownership. 

For the last chart, let’s review which tablet screen sizes are preferred most.

YoY Market Share Shift by Screen Size

In this chart, we compare screen size for Apple’s iPad and Samsung’s Galaxy Tab in 2019 and 2020. While small and medium sized tablets clearly dominate the market for both Apple and Samsung, the share of larger screens has increased year over year for both manufacturers. 

Bigger Screens

As smartphones continue to increase in size, it’s possible that people feel compelled to purchase larger tablets for a more differentiated experience. Additionally, as remote learning continues in many school districts due to COVID-19, parents might also be investing in larger tablets for their kids' education. Another trend driving the adoption of larger tablets is likely direct replacement of laptops as people increasingly spend more time on app-based experiences and web-browsing becomes more mobile-friendly. Portable keyboards for tablets make the case to switch from laptops even stronger. 

To further illustrate the shift to larger screens, all three Apple  iPad launches this year (iPad Pro, iPad Air and iPad) have screens larger than 10 inches, while six of the eight Galaxy Tabs had similarly large-sized screens. As phone screens sizes have been increasing, so too have tablet screen sizes. And the line has been blurring between larger phones and smaller tablets.

What tablets lack in broader market penetration, they make up for with better user experience for apps that benefit from a larger screen size, such as gaming and education. Tablets see higher relative usage especially as indoor devices for work, entertainment and creativity. And as people continue to remain indoors due to COVID-19, the tablet utility is increasing. We’ll continue to report on mobile trends across form factors. Make sure you subscribe to the Flurry blog, and follow us on Twitter and LinkedIn to stay up-to-date on the latest analyses.

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