Tablet Usage Spikes During Covid-19

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

In 2010, Apple reinvigorated the tablet category with the launch of the iPad. And while the worldwide tablet user base has surpassed 1 billion devices, tablets still make up less than 10% of new device shipments compared to mobile devices. The tablet—an in-between device—is less portable than a smartphone and does not deliver the same computing power and multitasking capabilities of laptops.

And then Coronavirus hit. In an April analyst call, Apple CEO Tim Cook stated that the iPad “…will improve on a year-over-year basis during this quarter—and that’s [from] customers that are either taking online education, or working remotely.” In this study, Flurry looks at how usage has changed on smartphones versus tablets to understand how shelter-in-place orders have impacted device usage behavior.

Flurry Analytics, owned by Verizon Media, is used in 1 million mobile applications across more than 2 billion active devices every month. For this analysis, we focus on the iPhones and iPads in the US market as a proxy for all smartphones and tablet usage. Apple continues to have a majority share in the US for both form factors. Additionally, focusing on one country allowed us to better pinpoint device usage changes based on when shelter-in-place orders were issued. Let’s review the data.US Change in App Usage on iPhone vs iPad

In the chart above, we compare the percent change in average daily sessions per user, meaning how many times people use their devices each day. We took January 2020 as a pre-Coronavirus baseline and then compared how usage changed in the following months over that baseline, from February through May.

During February in the United States, there was little interruption to daily life despite the growing number of COVID-19 cases. This explains why the increases in iPhone and iPad usage were both modest and equal, 3% over the January baseline respectively. Similarly, most of the United States was open in March, as the majority of shelter-in-place orders came at the end of March, with some coming in April. That said, the US began seeing a first wave of school and business closures in mid-to-late March. Overall, daily sessions increased by 6% over the January baseline for both form factors. In April, however, Americans began heavily sheltering-in-place, with a strong rise in both distance learning and working from home. As a result, average daily sessions per user on iPad increased by 13% over the January baseline compared to only a 9% increase for the iPhone.

We believe the accelerated growth in iPad usage has to do with how its form factor is better suited to video, media and entertainment use cases. The iPad Pro screen measures a comfortable 12.9” diagonally. With people at home in such an unprecedented way, the iPad gained increased usage over the more portable smartphone which fits nicely in pockets and purses to take on-the-go. In addition, tablets pair nicely with Games, which as a category is seeing a 20% increase in average daily sessions per user since shelter-in-place orders were announced (more on that story coming soon). All of this explains the increase in tablet usage we’re seeing during this global health crisis that has people spending more time at home than normal.

Now let’s look at new devices entering the market by week since January, with new device activations from the first week of January as the baseline. Both iPad and iPhone sales have suffered during the pandemic, which shouldn’t come as a surprise given economic uncertainty and record unemployment levels. But what is interesting is the iPhone’s decline is much more dramatic than that of the iPad.New iPhone and iPad Activations by Week

Beginning in the second week of March, when California announced the nation’s first shelter-in-place orders, iPhone sales drop to nearly half of their baseline levels where they remain through May. iPad sales, on the other hand, drop only to 77% of January baseline levels. They quickly rebound to 90% of the baseline, where they held until early April, likely due to the release of a new iPad Pro on March 18th. Apple also released the new iPhone SE 2 on April 24th, yet the iPhone’s sales still hover around the 50% level. We believe the iPad’s less modest declines may partly be due to people finally deciding to invest in the iPad they’ve been eyeing because of the increased time at home expected for the foreseeable future. 

Now that many states have lifted stay-at-home orders and are resuming some recreational activities, we will continue to monitor engagement on tablets. Did this period of isolation remind many Americans of the value of the larger screen or will we all return to our normal habits and simply reach in our pocket or purse or our trusty smartphone? As always, we’ll keep an eye on mobile device activity and update you as we see interesting trends. Stay safe!

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