More Portable Than Mobile: 90% of Tablet Use Over WiFi

Ipad-with-wifi-icon-The embedded LTE networking capability in the new iPad was catnip for gadget geeks. Oh, did the benchmarks pour in -- almost as thick a gusher as the, well, gushing over Retina Display sharpness. 17GB per second and greater speeds were clocked as reviewers got out the old Speedtest app to prove just how world-changing, mind-blowing, and paradigm-shifting high-speed wireless broadband can be.

Except when it’s irrelevant to the overwhelming majority of tablet users. According to the latest research and forecasting from Chetan Sharma, 90% of tablets use WiFi only. Sure, there are millions of tablets out there with cellular capability. But the majority of those 3G and now 4G tablets generally aren’t even turning the cellular capability on.



There is anecdotal evidence that some people are taking their tablets out of the home for work and occasionally other shopping tasks. At industry conferences you will see a fair share of iPads in the crowd, most likely linked to the sponsored WiFi. One realty app maker says it knows that some of its house-hunter users actually are taking their tablets with them in the car and looking up images of the interior of a for-sale property as they park outside.

But overall, even those who have the capability to connect via cellular networks seem to have bought their tablets in the hope that someday they will need or want to use it.

Or, more likely, when they will be able to afford to use it. For all but the infamous 1%. ponying up for another data plan on top of the smartphone plans and other media subscription on our monthly plate is unrealistic. Having the ability to tap into tablet data on an ad hoc monthly basis is a good start, but my guess is most people don’t use it when a little effort will get them to a WiFi connection.

In other words, the business models haven’t really caught up with the technology. Chetan Sharma says that operators are essentially irrelevant to the sales of tablets, largely because they are not effectively tied to a cellular model for most consumers. “Operators who start to bundle multiple devices by single data plans and data buckets are going to see a better yield in this category,” the report states. “We expect family data plans to be introduced in the US market soon.” In fact, the blogosphere is abuzz today with a leaked document from Verizon Wireless suggesting that family data plans are imminent. But it still isn’t clear whether Verizon will offer multi-device data buckets in this model. Being able to pull from the same pool of Gigabytes across gadgets is really what we need in the post-PC era.

And that is when we may begin seeing tablets move from portability to mobility. Now still contained mainly in the home or workplace, tablets get fresh and interesting when shoppers start thinking of them as companions for store trips. I suspect the big screen combined with the camera on the iPad also makes them more compelling augmented reality tools out-of-home.

Combine the screen size and connectivity and we get that much closer to using tablets as AR windows onto the external world -- displays that we can fill with all manner of reality enhancements. 

2 comments about "More Portable Than Mobile: 90% of Tablet Use Over WiFi".
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  1. David Burdon from Simply Clicks, March 21, 2012 at 2:15 p.m.

    From the beginning of the boom in "mobile" sales tablets have demonstrated different user characteristics from smartphones. One of these is e-commerce sales. Obviously screen size is an issue from a user experience perspective. But perhaps security is another. Maybe tablet users feel safer with wi-fi than smartphone users with 3G.

  2. jon heller from Partners of Progress, March 22, 2012 at 1:39 p.m.

    One thing people may not think about is the current change in WiFi costs. Many people think about free WiFi, but most places you travel too these days charge, usually up to $10.00 per day, so paying a monthly bill to a carrier may not be such as bad option.

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