Pew: After email, getting news is the most popular activity on smartphones, tablets

The growing number of tablet owners are developing an increased appetite for news, according to a new study from Pew's Project for Excellence in Journalism.

Tablet owners spend more time with news from more sources.

The survey measures how many smartphone and tablet owners use the devices to keep up with news, and how they consume news. One key finding is that after email, getting news is the second most popular activity on mobile devices.

Another key finding: Almost one-third of people who acquire tablets find themselves reading more news from more sources than before.

What they're reading is also interesting. Almost three-fourths of tablet news readers consumed in-depth news articles at least sometimes, with 19 percent saying they do so daily.

A strong majority of tablet readers also said they read at least two-to-three articles in a sitting, many of which they just came across while browsing headlines.

Tablet owners read in-depth articles, and explore articles they weren't initially seeking.

Most of the people (60 percent) who read in-depth articles on tablets said they get them from just a few specific publications they read regularly, and almost all of those people (90 percent) look at those favorite publications at least once a week.

Overall, the study paints a bright picture of the news consumer's behavior in the emerging tablet market:

News is a large part of what people do with their mobile devices. Fully 64% of tablet owners get news on their devices at least weekly, including 37% who do so daily. The numbers are similar for smartphone owners – 62% consume news weekly or more and 36% do so daily. For both tablets and smartphones, news is among the top activities people engage in on the devices.

The amount of time spent on these devices getting news is also substantial. Mobile news consumers spend an average of 50 minutes or more getting news on their tablet or smartphone on a typical day.

The introduction of smaller, cheaper 7-inch tablets has expanded and diversified the market in the past year, the study says. A similar study in 2011 found the iPad accounted for 81 percent of the market, while this year's study has it down to 52 percent. Android-powered tablets, led by the Kindle Fire, have increased to 48 percent in the survey. And this data was collected before the release of Google's Nexus 7 tablet or Amazon's newer Kindle Fire HD.

The Android tablet owners, however, are less likely than iPad owners to use the devices each day. The study found 29 percent of Android tablet owners got news daily, compared to 43 percent of iPad owners.

One other lesson to keep in mind from the survey is that "mobile" news consumers are actually not that mobile.

Eighty-five percent of tablet users and 58 percent of smartphone users said they tend to get news on the device while at home.

"In short, while mobile technology allows people to get news on the go, relatively few people do so," the study says. "The lure of home as a place for news consumption is also linked to the findings about when people get their news. Even though mobile devices make it easier to get news whenever you want, mobile device owners still seem to have habitual times of day when they consume news. And for about half of mobile news users on each device, it is just a single time each day."

The study also analyzes the revenue conditions of the mobile news market, and my Poynter colleague Rick Edmonds writes about that in a separate post.

One notable piece of data sheds light on the questions of apps vs. websites. The findings reinforce last year's analysis that while more users prefer websites than apps, the app users consume more news and are more likely to pay for it.

The smaller number of users who prefer news apps to websites spend more time with news, read more news and are more likely to pay for news.

Some caveats

As with any questionnaire-based survey, we should have some skepticism about the respondents' ability to precisely describe their true behavioral patterns. Asking people to recollect when, where or how they get news is less precise than directly recording their behavior through observation, diaries or analytics.

The survey questioned a random sample of 9,513 adults. The full about mobile news consumption was completed by 1,928 mobile device users, including 810 tablet news users and 1,075 smartphone news users. The margin of error is plus or minus 3.4 percentage points for tablet owners and 5.4 percentage points for tablet news users. The margin of error is 2.4 percentage points for smartphone owners and 4.1 for smartphone news users.

Related: Mobile devices offer new business opportunity for news orgs, with old challenges
Earlier: 17 percent of Americans got news on a mobile device yesterday (Poynter)

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    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.


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