How people use smartphones and tablets and what it means for your mobile strategy

Nearly half of American adults get some kind of local news or information via a cellphone or tablet. And as more people adopt portable digital devices, news publishers and other businesses are eager to put their content on these platforms.

In doing so, it’s important to recognize that one mobile strategy will not fit all devices.

Smartphones and tablets are similar in many ways. Both have touchscreens and apps, and in most cases they even run the same operating systems (iOS or Android). But smartphones and tablets are very different devices when it comes to how people use them.

Here is an overview of the differences and what they mean for your strategy.

Smartphone users

Eighty-four percent of American adults own cellphones; 38 percent of those people own smartphones. Smartphone owners use the devices in a variety of situations, including while watching TV (68 percent), running errands (59 percent), waiting for something (59 percent), with friends or family (58 percent), or lying in bed (51 percent), according to a Nielsen survey.

Smartphones are used consistently throughout the day. Most users will access information on their phone many times during the day — for a few seconds or a few minutes at a time, often while shopping, commuting or waiting in a line.

They may just be browsing for the latest news headlines, or they may have a specific piece of information they need to find quickly. iPhone users are more likely than iPad users to access news and music.

Considering these uses, a local news organization could decide that it will target its smartphone app or mobile site to help people solve their on-the-go problems and keep up with the latest big news. Such an app or site could have current information on traffic, events and local businesses.

Tablet users

About 8 to 12 percent of U.S. adults own a tablet, depending on the survey. That figure could reach 23 percent by early next year.

The market at this point is dominated by iPads, but many Android tablets are expected to hit the market later this year, and there are notable efforts from BlackBerry and Windows devices.

More than half of all time spent using tablets occurs in bed or watching TV, according to Nielsen. Usage peaks early in the morning and again in the evenings.

iPad users are more likely than iPhone users to use the device regularly to access books, TV shows, movies and magazines. News and music are the most popular types of content on the iPad (though they aren't as popular as they are on the iPhone).

So what might a good tablet app or website for news look like? Focus on your most interesting, unique stories and multimedia. Collect the stories, videos and photos that a person will want to relax with and read for 20 minutes at a time. Include breaking news, but keep the emphasis on a magazine-like appeal aimed at stimulating the eyes and imagination.

No single approach works for all platforms

Considering how expensive and time-consuming it is to develop for different platforms, this may be difficult advice for some news publishers. It is tempting to just reformat one standard package of information to look good on different screen sizes.

But the data shows that you must have different strategies and truly different products to serve the needs of smartphone and tablet users. You need one product for the person who's on the go and seeking information related to where they are now. And you need another product for someone unwinding after a long day.

Beware any company selling mobile websites or apps that serve the same news and information on every platform.

For example, a service like OnSwipe does an impressive job of creating a tablet-optimized website. It generates an elegant, swipe-based interactive site that emphasizes photos and clean, readable text. OnSwipe can also generate a smartphone version for smaller screens, but that’s not the ideal experience for a utility-focused phone user.

NPR, for instance, has a differentiated mobile strategy. Its iPhone and Android “NPR News” apps offer quick access to top stories, popular topics and the latest hourly newscast. “NPR for iPad," on the other hand, offers a leisurely browsing experience and emphasizes features and music in addition to news and streaming audio.

When you examine your own tablet and smartphone audiences, you may even find opportunities for niche mobile products beyond the basic news app. NPR developed an iPhone app to feature its music programs, concerts and music blogs.

In your market, such a niche product could be an iPad app for in-depth news, opinions and multimedia on your most popular sports team. Or an entertainment-focused smartphone app with restaurant and bar specials and reviews.

How have you developed your mobile strategy for smartphones and tablets? Share your comments below.

  • Profile picture for user jsonderman

    Jeff Sonderman

    Jeff Sonderman is the deputy director of the American Press Institute, helping to lead its use of research, tools, events, and strategic insights to advance and sustain journalism.


Related News

Email IconGroup 3Facebook IconLinkedIn IconsearchGroupTwitter IconGroup 2YouTube Icon