How do people use tablets differently to smart phones?

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3 minute read
Kieron Gurner

Kieron Gurner

UX & Design Lead

Digital Insights

Mobile activities are all about context. The place, time, situation and surroundings all play a role in the way people think about and use technology. Smart phones have had such a massive impact on our lives because they enable us, in previously computer-free environments. But in what kind of contexts are people using tablets?

A study from Flurry investigated the behaviours surrounding iPad and iPhone use throughout the day, monitoring the ways in which people use either device.

iPhone Activities

One of the aspects they looked at was the average time spent using an iPad or iPhone with certain kinds of apps. Unsurprisingly, “Navigation” apps were 13 times more likely to be used on iPhones than they were on iPads, showing that the portability of a small device like a phone is more suited to finding your way around an unfamiliar area.

Researchers also found that Health & Fitness, Photo & Video and Social apps were more commonly used on iPhones, again supporting the power of immediacy and ease of use in those contexts – it’s quicker and easier to grab your phone to take a photo.

iPad Activities

On the other side of the spectrum, the study show a general leaning towards iPads for activities that require a little more attention, such as apps that centred on Gaming, Reference and Education. This suggests that people are beginning to use their phones less for activities which take a little more time, in favour of a tablet that provides a more enjoyable reading, learning and playing experience.

What this means for app developers

As a developer, this information can help target your apps to certain types of activities and user groups in different ways. If your gaming app requires longer attention commitment than Angry Birds, you might be better off developing it for a tablet. Here are a few things to think about:

  • Smart phone apps work best when they serve a quick, immediate function, like providing transport information, or performing a task in just a couple of taps. Make your smart phone apps simple and fast.
  • Location-based apps are usually better suited to smart phones, because they fit in your pocket and don’t require as much concentration on the screen.
  • Tablet apps are perfect for play and learning, and are often used in leisure time. Give your tablet users a richer experience, knowing that they’re likely to spend longer and be approaching the experience with a bit more time commitment.
  • If you want to make a cross-device app, make sure that you serve the most relevant experience based on device. For example, a quick-fire reference app could be useful on a smart phone if gives a fast and clear answer to a specific question – but on a tablet, it would be better to provide links to further explanation, showing related content and giving users an opportunity to browse more.

Ultimately, as a developer or marketer, you should be focussing on the context of your app if you want it to fulfil its purpose. Think about whether your app would be better as a quick and portable experience, or as a way to engage people for longer and deeper.

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