The tablet vs. the smartphone: What is the device of the future?

At the INMA World Congress event in San Francisco in May, there was considerable buzz after the presentation by Montreal’s La Presse regarding La Presse Plus, a tablet-only offering that has generated considerable local interest and a consumer stickiness that is surprising many.

La Presse’s results so far are impressive, with more than 400,000 downloads of the app, daily personal usage of more than 120,000, and time-spent levels that make most news Web sites or tablet offerings pale by comparison.

When the tablet first emerged, there was great fanfare that this new platform could be just what newspapers needed to find a path into the digital future. While it has taken longer than one might have expected to embrace the tablet, perhaps its time has come.

According to a recent study released by Media Technology Monitor (MTM) in Canada, the tablet has reached roughly a 40% penetration level. The study also found the demographics of tablet users appeal to newspapers’ traditional advertisers as well as aligning closely with “news” types.

In addition, the vast majority of tablets are purchased for personal use, not business use. This means the tablet is becoming the go-to leisure device in the home.

Put that combination together and perhaps the makings of a business model are emerging. If a news organisation can create a daily audience that spends 30 minutes a day or more reading content inside a controlled environment, then suddenly an argument to charge premium rates begins to emerge.

Perhaps that premium rate might just have some staying power, unlike what is being experienced at most Web sites.

The MTM study also found roughly 50% of tablet users access news regularly. Because it is nicely positioned between the traditional desktop and a smartphone, the tablet could indeed provide a new and potentially lucrative revenue stream.

On the other hand, the smartphone has deeper penetration in virtually all markets globally. It’s been reported that more people have a smartphone than have a toothbrush. Also, the smartphone is accessed on average more than 100 times a day and is truly a personal device. As such, it should be an ideal place to develop the next successful news business model.

Unfortunately, a successful smartphone business model has proven elusive for most publishers. While an effective mobile strategy is clearly necessary, the gain may be more in the data collected and the extended reach of the brand than in the actual news transaction itself.

What’s becoming more evident in many North American markets is how readers and users are migrating to their preferred platform and staying there.

Not that long ago, the prevailing belief in the industry was that readers would consume content throughout the day, moving from platform to platform, perhaps reading printed newspapers in the morning, checking headlines throughout the day on a desktop, glancing at news via their smartphone while out for lunch, and settling in at the end of day with the tablet.

But it seems people have stronger habits for consuming news than we first thought.

In most markets print readers prefer print, smartphone users have little interest in other devices, and tablet habits appear to be forming around the morning and late evening. The desktop use during the day still remains significant.

The challenge for news organisations will be in determining where to place their bets. With limited resources, it will be hard to invest heavily on all four fronts.

A heavy investment in print can possibly be eliminated because growth there is unlikely. The desktop business model is also unlikely to grow, leaving most news organisations the choice of smartphone versus tablet.

As more lower-priced tablets find a place in the market and as the size of smartphones continues to increase, it will be tricky to choose the best product investment path moving forward.

One thing is clear, though: Choices must be made fairly quickly.

Will your organisation select the tablet or the smartphone as the investment area of choice?

About Sandy MacLeod

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