All the time and energy that Apple and partners spent hyping the LTE connectivity of the new iPad models appears to be aimed at a very small segment of the tablet-using population. According to app analytics company Localytics, only 6% of all iPad sessions it measured recently use the cellular network. Barely 10% of the iPads connecting to Localytics even sported cellular capability.
Localytics marketing executive Daniel Ruby tells me that on their network of apps, 8.8% of iPads have 3G cellular capability from original iPads or iPad 2s. While this early in the new iPad game it is difficult to draw broad assessments, only about 1.5% of all iPads at this point have 4G. Either people really aren’t running into the use cases that demand a cellular connection from their tablets or the cost/bother of enabling the feature is discouraging them.
In either case, it seems unlikely that the portable tablet is morphing quickly into the mobile tablet. Obviously, we need more detailed research on how people are integrating this in-between device into their everyday lives. And those patterns are evolving. I suspect that even when the tablet goes mobile, it is moving hot spot to hot spot: home to work to event to coffee shop -- all WiFi-enabled now.
But what is also interesting about Localytics findings is the drill-down into those who have cellular-enabled tablets. Those who either buy up front or enable 3G or 4G actually make common use of it. Among the 3G-enabled devices detected across apps, 45% of the sessions were using cellular to connect. Among the 4G-enabled devices, 36% of the sessions were using cellular.
Arguably, the data plans have to catch up to the devices in order for cellular tablet use to increase appreciably. But that isn’t the whole story. When the tablet does leave the house, its in-between-ness may be more apparent than it is at home. The sheer portability and lean-back ease of using the tablet rather than the l-shaped and heavier laptop in most cases and places domestically is becoming a no-brainer. On a commute, in a car, in a waiting room, is the tablet necessarily the easiest device to use or bring with you -- since pretty much all tablet owners likely have a smartphone?
In the home, the tablet more easily found a niche many of us didn’t really know was there -– a casual browsing mode that many of us really wanted from digital media all along. I have no doubt that tablets will play a much larger role out-of-home in the coming years. But as a truly mobile device, they will have to carve rather than fall into a new niche.