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Tablet, Phablet, PC, Laptop: Will one ever reign supreme?

by Will Youngman , 15.05.2013

I am regularly being asked questions like ‘when will tablet ownership overtake PC?’ or ‘how long before everyone has a smartphone?’ The truth of what is happening with ownership of connected devices is far more complicated, so without the benefit of a crystal ball, here are some trends that we’re identifying in our research that could indicate what we can expect to happen in the near future.

So let’s look at the current situation. Approximately11% of the UK population currently owns a tablet. The top four activities are email (73%), general browsing (69%), social media (58%) and researching (44%), with entertainment in the form of watching videos fifth at 40%. However the rise of tablets that are marketed for both entertainment and work (Microsoft Slate, HP Envy, Asus Transformer) may change tablet based behaviours. For some the tablet will and has replaced the computer, but for the majority it certainly won’t. For instance, one third (32%) of owners agree that they use their tablet more than their computer for browsing the internet, and 12% of iPad users say the device has completely replaced their laptop. However to put this into context, 75% of tablet owners would not replace a broken computer with a tablet according to IAB UK.

In terms of smartphones, penetration is currently around 50% in the UK, yet 49% of device owners say that theirs doesn’t meet their entire set of needs. An interesting case in point here is online banking. While more than two thirds (67%) of people use a PC to carry out their online banking, and one quarter (24%) use a tablet, online banking via a smartphone is concentrated amongst a younger set. At the top of a sliding scale by age are 21% of 16-24 year olds who use their smartphone to manage their finances, falling significantly in other age groups to only 8% of 45-54 year olds and 1% of those aged 65+.

So is there a golden opportunity for the phablet – a new device that can meet all needs? Research shows that nearly half of all families living in poverty (according to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation) own a smartphone. So how likely is it that a competitively priced ‘very large smartphone’, with a screen between five and seven inches could be a serious contender for the tablet? After all, the phablet sits neatly in the media convergence ‘sweet spot’, combining the functionalities of a phone, tablet and laptop.

With the popularity of the Samsung Galaxy Note I don’t think anyone should be writing it off. Our research suggests there is a gap in the market for people on lower incomes that can’t live without their smartphone and choose a phablet as an adequate replacement for an unaffordable tablet. If this happens, it might mean that the current boom tablet sales may be short lived.

For more information feel free to contact me on will.youngman@gfk.com