Tablet Growth Leveling, But iPad Is Still The Defining Device

The latest wave of Samsung tablet spots for TV are trying to apply to tablets the Apple embarrassment approach the company used in its Galaxy campaigns in recent years. An iPad using worker is shamed by his device’s inability to multitask. Boss scowls over the live chat on the tablet, co-worker magnanimously tries to cover for the poor Apple dweeb while sharing his Samsung.

Well, good luck with that, Samsung. According to Kantar WorldPanel ComTech, the iPad still crushes the competition when it comes to overall usage. In fact, 32% of iPad users say they are using the device throughout the day, with 42% on the iPad at least once a day. Only 24% of Samsung tablet users are firing it up much of the day, although 41% are on it daily. Kindle Fires actually seem to spend much of the day chilling, with only 18% of their owners using them broadly. When you drill into the specific use cases, iPad owners are seen accessing the full range of capabilities, from email to apps to browsing frequently. For Samsung devices, listening to music seems to be the biggest draw for frequent users. The Kindle Fire still can’t shake its ebook roots, with book reading leading the way among its owners.

Samsung’s problem is the ongoing Android problem for tablets. I keep trying to press myself toward greater reliance on my Nexus 7, if only to experience that ecosystem more fully. But the range of options constrains my efforts. The fact remains that despite growth in tablet-specific builds for the Android app store, many of the experiences apart from games look and feel like oversized smartphone designs. The Android tablet experience feels good enough without being compelling.

Kantar finds that in the U.S. the iPad still owns the market, with 43% of those surveyed owning the Apple device. Samsung has 24% of the market, and Amazon only 11%. I have to say that I find myself using the Kindle Fire more often than the Nexus 7. Amazon’s revised OS, much improved browser and strong X-Ray media enhancements all give me a reason to pick it up. The Android tablets still feel like a watered-down iPad world.

Still, Kantar sees a leveling off of the market, and perhaps a wall for tablet penetration. More than half of consumers (53%) will not be buying a new tablet in the next year. The most common reason for not buying a tablet (72%) is being content with their current laptop or PC experience, while 42% just aren’t interested.

The limits of the tablet’s appeal has always been a lingering question about this device. To be sure, almost all of us were surprised by Steve Jobs’ and Apple’s prescience in this regard. The touch interface proved to be more engaging than I think most analysts expected. Moreover, the market’s readiness for an intermediary lean-back/lean-in mode was unexpected.

But there are likely some natural limits to tablet appeal. The part of our digital lives that can be devoted to tablets is much larger than we thought five or six years ago, but it still constitutes a mode rather than a universal or fully multipurpose interface with the digital world. The high but incomplete penetration of tablets just underscores how intensely fragmented the digital space will continue to become.   

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