September 19, 2012

Handsets, PCs and Tablets

By Hisham Isa, Vice President (Marketing)

Contrary to popular expectations, rising demand for tablets has not affected consumer interest in mobile phones and computers.

Plus, handsets remain the device of choice for surfing the internet.

These are two of the key findings of a recent BuzzCity survey of mobile users in more than 700 cities and towns across 71 countries.

Mobile Rules
Across our survey, it's clear: if someone surfs the internet with a phone, that's definitely their preferred means of accessing the internet.

  • Of those who surf on mobile, 77% go online exclusively with a phone; they do not use any other device.
  • Overall, 85% of mobile surfers say that handsets are their preferred means of going online.
  • Very few people surf with both mobile devices and PCs - just 6%. Even fewer use mobiles and tablets - less than one percent.
There are variations by country, though. In some markets - like Malaysia, Spain, Portugal and the UAE - more than 40% of consumers like surfing with PCs, but these are the exceptions.


There's no doubt though that the market for tablets continues to grow as well, though perhaps not as fast as manufacturers would like.

Eleven percent of our survey respondents indicated that they expect to purchase a tablet within the next year.

Markets where tablet surfing is currently the highest are:

  1. Spain        22%
  2. UAE         17%
  3. Brazil       13%
  4. Malaysia  13%
  5. Portugal   12%
  6. France     11%
Brazil could move to the top of this list next year, as 41% of our survey respondents there said they plan to buy a tablet.


Even in countries where demand for tablets is relatively high, there is no significant impact on PCs -- consumers still want to buy computers too.   In fact more consumers want to buy a computer now than a year ago. Twenty-seven percent of our survey respondents say they plan to buy a PC or laptop within the next twelve months.  That's up from 17% in 2011. A small number now note that they will replace their home PCs with tablets.  

Why Mobile Rules 

Tablets have demonstrated that they have a unique niche, but they are not in a position to replace either phones or computers. A couple of the supposed advantages of tablets have not struck a chord with consumers. 

 1. Take screen size. Manufacturers and analysts usually tout tablets' larger screen size as a selling point. But more than a quarter of our survey respondents say they like their phones' smaller size. It's more private. And only 14% say they see tablets' larger screens as a key feature. This probably explains why just 9% see tablets as a device for showing and sharing. 

  2. And then there's the tactile nature of tablets. Surprisingly, this is not important for most surfers. Among mobile users who also have a tablet, only 10% said that being able to use their fingers to swipe screens and adjust sizes was a key feature of tablets. It seems that for tablets to really increase their market share, manufacturers will need to look beyond these two factors. 

At the moment very few users surf with more than one device. 

But this is likely to change. As carriers develop data plans catering to multiple devices, consumer demand for tablets will rise faster.  In the meantime, given a marketplace where an increasing number of consumers own multiple devices, those of us in the mobile industry - from handset makers to content developers to advertisers - need to closely watch how this shift affects consumer behavior.