Smartphones Are From Mars, Tablets Are From Venus

Conventional wisdom states that mobile media is undergoing rocket-fueled growth considering that:

  • Overall time spent on mobile devices has tripled since 2009 (eMarketer)

  • The mobile video audience tripled in 2012 alone (eMarketer)

  • Mobile devices are currently outselling PCs by a 2:1 ratio (Gartner, IDC)

The common assumption is that mobile refers to both smartphones and tablets, thus insinuating that each device is similar to the other. There are similarities, of course, as both devices are portable, personally customized, web/app connected and touch-screen enabled. Additionally, both devices have significant traction amongst Affluent audiences – as 67% of Affluents own smartphones (Nielsen) and 47% own tablets (Pew).

The similarities, however, end there, and marketers would be best served to take advantage of the unique idiosyncrasies and differences each device offers. 



When thinking mobile, most marketers probably think smartphone first. However, the reality is that many brands (like Toyota) could greatly benefit by thinking tablet-first, considering that they are:

Preferred for web & app usage

Compared to their smartphone brethren, tablet owners spend two times more time on the mobile web and seven times more time on apps (comScore). Tiffany, Rolex, Gucci, Saks and Sotheby’s are luxury brands that have developed apps to foster connections with their affluent audience, moving beyond shopping online to include wish lists, music and inside information for their coveted clients.

Driving as much e-Commerce traffic as smartphones

Twenty percent of all e-Commerce traffic now comes via mobile devices (Moderate) and it is evenly split between tablets and smartphones. What is remarkable about this statistic is that smartphones currently outnumber tablets by more than a 2:1 ratio in the U.S.

A more likely shopping companion

While much ado has been made lately about mobile showrooming and in-store comparison shopping on smartphones, tablets are, by far, the preferred device when it comes to making a purchase decision (comScore).

Providing deeper engagement

The majority of tablet use is spent on the more emotional activities such as shopping, gaming and entertainment while smartphone use tends to center on more functional daily activities around social, photos, weather and maps (Flurry). Ad performance, therefore, proves to be much more effective on tablets for emotional and big ticket categories such as fashion, lifestyle, health, travel and entertainment.

Smart luxury brands likes Lexus and Hermes are taking advantage of this insight by building deeper engagements into their magazine media partnerships vs. simply re-slapping their print ad on the tablet edition.

Growing at an increasingly faster rate

IDC predicts that tablets will out-ship desktop PCs in 2013, laptop PCs in 2014, and one out of every four tablet purchases is a PC-replacement. Sooner rather than later, tablets will be the primary device used by the majority of consumers for both work and play. 

This is not to say that smartphones cannot also generate tremendous value for marketers, especially in more functional settings and outputs. Simply said, smartphones are used differently and serve different purposes than tablets. 

While smartphones and tablets rotate around the same mobile universe, they have their distinct orbit and should be given their distinct (inter-planetary) due. 

2 comments about "Smartphones Are From Mars, Tablets Are From Venus".
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  1. Bruce May from Bizperity, April 10, 2013 at 4:59 p.m.

    My first reaction to your post is that you are just stating the obvious but it is amazing to me that marketers and advertisers often do lump phones and tablets into a single category. We use to talk about the 10', 2' and 1' experience in broadcast (TV, PC and mobile) but evolving terminology hasn't caught up with the Tablet. It is a unique experience, sharing traits with both mobile and PC. Your insights and supporting facts are welcome. We all need to pay more attention to the variations in capabilities and experience between these devices.

  2. mike boland from BIA/Kelsey, April 11, 2013 at 3:59 p.m.

    This is great. I've been trying to make this point for a while. Most data you see on mobile usage just assumes smartphone and tablet together. They need to be separated because any companies vetting opportunities for content distribution or app development in either medium need to look at them differently. Different native experiences, etc.

    One clarification though - on the point about shopping companion, there's an apples to oranges assessment that needs to be separated. Yes more purchases happen on tablets but those are ecommerce transactions. The opportunities with smarpthones as a shopping companion is more about the vastly larger market of offline retail (and separating the two in discussion supports your overall point).

    thanks for the good piece.

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