29 Mar 2012

Event Round Up - 19th March - Tablets Come of Age

MoMoLo volunteer Valentina Ciolino (@MissFog) has written up the proceedings from Monday 19th March - also do be sure to check out the interesting posts from MoMoLo regulars Simon Judge and Adam Cohen-Rose.

With many thanks once again to our sponsors - Barnes and Noble.

Over to Valentina:

We said goodbye to the winter and greeted the spring with an amazingly crowded Mobile Monday event: “Tablets Come of Age”.  

A wide range of viewpoints on the panel offered us a range of perspectives on the current state and possible future of tablets: journalist Stuart Dredge, mobile product manager Hesham Al-Jehani from ComScore, the creative director Ben Scott Robinson from WeLoveMobile (pictured), Claudia Romanini from Barnes & Noble's Nook Developer, providing the point of view of an hardware-selling and app-store-managing company, and finally the panel chair: Marek Pawlowski from MEX, the well-known user experience conference and consultancy.

And tablet user experience was indeed one of the main topics for the evening, the others being the user demographic, tablet usage and the infamous in-bed horizontal position. Not joking.

So how many types of tablets are there on the market? We can at least divide them into reader’s tablets, which includes both the e-ink devices and their little colour-touch-screen brothers from Nook, Amazon, Sony, and multi-purpose tablets, such as the ones powered by Apple, Android, RIM and Windows OSs. They have different uses and purchasing reasons: the reader’s tablets focus on the best reading and book purchasing experience, and appeal to not necessarily tech-savvy people (Nook’s target are mainly women 25 to 45 years old); the Apple iPad, Samsung Galaxy and RIM PlayBook fight for the same market as the smartphones, laptops and hi-tech gadgets.

Both Marek and Claudia offered us an overview of the market: Apple sold 40m iPads in 2011 in US, an amazing number of users that took smartphones 7 long years to reach. And while iPad now hold on 70% of the tablets market worldwide, its share will shrink within 2013-2014, giving space to the other brands. Nook is already the second best-selling tablet in US, and as for the others readers tablets, people buy it to read and buy books and then discover other functions and apps and games, and start buying them too. 

The forecast is that the devices sales will increase more, tapping into the PC sales. People who today have a PC but use it only for content consumption and maybe sending a couple of e-mail will soon buy a tablet instead. The business opportunity here is clear: tablets will become a mass-market product soon and good apps and content are required!

But software houses can’t make the mistake of just porting their smartphone or web apps to tablets without customizing them. In fact, there are some peculiar use-cases for tablet apps that sounded very interesting, and each of our panelists explained one. 

Ben told us about his 70 year old mum, who immediately understood how to open and use tablet applications, while she refuses to try the same with smartphones due to their small screens. Elders can approach tablets as a tool to read books and then maybe use them for some of their health-related applications (especially when you can plug other simple medical tools and send the results to your GP). Icons are big and the interface can be very clear and user friendly.

Claudia and Hesham reported about their families sharing time on tablets; use them to read tales and novels or to watch cartoons and videos and your children will be with you to enjoy the experience. Claudia’s 7 years old daughter taught herself to read with the help of a tablet used to register her voice and listen herself again, while Hasham’s 18 month old toddler prefers tablet time to TV.  And Stuart pointed out that his kids play with tablet apps in the same creative way as they do with Play-Doh, sometimes asking for help and proudly showing the results to their parents. 

Stuart’s wife also involved him in some collaborative shopping, from easy Christmas gift orders, to the potentially much more expensive selection of houses. Some ecommerce companies and brands are in fact already working on tablet-compatible versions of their Web sites, as well as video distributors, magazines and newspapers or TV firms such as Sky; while other companies are also going the other way, like the publisher Penguin which, as Marek reported, bought the rights to create a paper version of the Whale Trail app from UsTwo.

Will the entertainment industry be affected by tablets rise? The panel agrees that’s not the case. Some companies are even using tablets as sales tools (like Netflix increasing its use-base via iPad), and newspapers and magazines especially, noted Claudia, can play with the tablet features and create customized content for subscribers, where every article and picture is animated or triggers a video.

Tablets are perfect for entertainment and work well with TV, making advertisers very happy. In fact, Ben stated that TV and tablets are complementary just like web and radio, and Marek confirmed that 30% of tablet usage is in front of TV. 

Tablets are an interesting kind of portable device - despite being not heavy and not that big (so truly portable), they mostly stay at home, their mobility being limited to being taken from one room to another. This is confirmed, as Hesham noted, by stats showing that 92% of usage is over wi-fi (in the US) and content consumption happens while sitting at one location. 

21% of US tablets owners use them in bed and the above-mentioned horizontal position (which Hesham noted he has personally tried many times) is one of the most common for tablet use. It’s a market of couch potatoes and lazy night owls.

While during the day people use their PC and in the morning the check mails on their mobiles, the traffic peak for tablets is between 9pm and 11pm. People use tablets to browse the web, read books, check a recipe while cooking, watch movies and videos and play games. And there’s even an artist that uses his tablet to paint some digital drawings with his fingers.

Apart from that case, though, the content production on tablets is quite difficult due to the absence of a keyboard and that’s why they still struggle a little to enter the enterprise world. Tablets today are not very good for writing and not good enough to type, despite some good external keyboards on the market and some software to improve the use of the digital keyboards. The stylus seems to be making a come-back in this area – Marek noted that this was the accessory-du-jour at the year’s MWC, though he also noted that a stylus works better on old-fashioned resistive touch screen technology rather than today’s capacitive touch screens.

So what’s in the future of tablets then? The panel had a round of telling us what they would like to see on the future devices: some tactile experiences, easier connectivity with other devices or with PC, more focus on good and customized content, maybe a new generation of tablet apps that don’t mimic the user interface of other devices. Hopefully that will be happen soon!

Thanks Valentina and I'm so glad that Stuart got in that point about hating skeuomorphism, right at the end there!