Tablets, Smartphones, and PCs: What Workers Are Using

A new report released this week from Forrester Research on tablet and smartphone use predicts that tablet ownership is set to skyrocket in the next few years, with the percentage of adults owning a tablet or tablet hybrid device set to increase from a mere 14% in 2012 to a whopping 55% by 2017.

Forrester interviewed close to 10,000 “information workers” (defined as those who spend one or more hours a day using a computer to complete tasks) from all over the globe, finding that productivity, flexibility, and mobility were on the rise with today’s users: those surveyed used three or more different tablet, PC, or smartphone devices, worked from several different locations, and used many different apps to complete their tasks:

"Having apps on tablets and smartphone means that employees can carry their work in their pockets ... and work from any location: Meeting rooms, coffee shops and homes are just the most obvious new offices. Really, office space is now anywhere. How does your support for mobile apps stack up against the global competition?" – Forrester Research

These “anytime, anywhere” users, with their mobile-focused work habits, now comprise 29% of the total global workforce, increasing from 23% in 2011. 21% of the users surveyed were using a tablet about once a week for work purposes, and 32% of these responded positively when asked if they would prefer a Windows tablet as their next device.

As we’ve all probably noticed at this point, tablets and tablet hybrids – such as the Dell XPS 12 Ultrabook™ Convertible – are definitely not a fad anymore. Most people have at least one tablet device in their households, with more than two seeming to be the norm. This trend is seen in the report; in fact, in Western Europe alone, the number of tablets is expected to climb from 33 million in 2012 up to more than 147 million in the next five years:

“This tablet growth forecast is based on a survey of 13,000 consumers in France, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, and the UK. The polled nations with the largest proportion of tablet owners, as a percentage of their total online population, were the Netherlands, with 20 per cent tablet penetration in 2012; Spain with 18 per cent; Italy with 16 per cent; and the U.K. with 15 per cent. France was lowest with just nine per cent.” - TechCrunch

Overall, the preference for tablets were primarily for Microsoft Surface, with 32% of the respondents polled indicating their preference for this relatively new release. 26% favored the iPad, with 12% going straight for the Android tablet. For phones, the figures seemed to be the opposite: 33% favored the iPhone, with 22% preferring Android and only 10% choosing a Windows Phone:

"Forrester projects that globally, 615 million people will be information workers in 2013 ...  Based on that forecast and the data on the desire for the next phone or tablet, we project that 208 million global information workers would like to use an iPhone for work, and 200 million global information workers would like to use a Microsoft Windows tablet for work." – Business Insider

Interestingly enough, most of those polled – 79% - indicated that they didn’t use a tablet for work, but only 17% of these respondents said that they are not interested in using a tablet for work; this suggests that tablets and tablet-hybrid devices are just getting started as far as productivity.

What about the PC?

Even though tablet use is definitely growing by leaps and bounds, PCs aren’t going anywhere. For enterprise platforms, desktop and notebook devices are headed up overwhelmingly by Windows.  Productivity is simply highest on the PC, as indicated in another study from NPD:

“Despite these shifts in behavior, computers will remain the fundamental content creation device in consumer’s tool box for many years to come,” said John Buffone, director of devices, Connected Intelligence.  “Consumers, however, are switching their entertainment-centric behaviors to tablets, smartphones, and connected TVs at warp speed."

Typically, while a tablet is used for content consumption and a PC for content creation, PCs are still the primary device of choice for any computing activity:

“All that being said, the PC isn’t dead. Internet browsing is still highest among PC owners at 75 percent, smartphones at 61 percent, and tablets at 53 percent, while Facebook interaction follows the same rank with PC owners at 63 percent, 55 percent for smartphone owners, and 39 percent among tablet owners.” – The Next Web

With the help of Wifi and a huge smorgasbord of apps, our computing devices are now mobile dashboards that make it easy for us get stuff done whether we’re on a train or in a cubicle or a coffee shop. Ten years ago, it would have been considered somewhat vulgar to have more than one computing device simply because they were so expensive and took up so much room; now, we think nothing of having a tablet for each person in our household along with at least one laptop, a desktop, and a few smartphones sprinkled around for good measure (as we can see from the study referenced in this article, this scenario is more than typical).

Smart developers will take advantage of the switch towards more mobile computing as well as the continued increase in PC computing use, building apps that leverage the consumption mode when it’s needed, as well as the creation mode when it’s required. The PC continues to be the best experience for productivity-focused activities, but tablets and tablet hybrids are definitely closing the gap, especially ones like the Surface that come equipped with a productivity-focused OS and detachable keyboard for work, with easy switching to tablet mode for pure play. It’s not an either/or scenario, as we’ve seen in the referenced study. Most households and work situations these days do encourage input from several different devices; it all depends on the task at hand. No matter which pundit you listen to or study that might be referenced, the PC just doesn’t go away. We as a society are not going to leave behind the productivity workhorse called the PC anytime soon, even as form factors merge ever more steadily between mobile and tablet. We’re merely seeing the natural evolution of how we as a society use computers in our daily lives – ever more mobile, ever more productive, and especially ever more flexible.



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