Read About It: Gartner Survey Finds Tablets Are Leading To A ‘Less Paper’ But Not ‘Paperless’ Publishing World

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A report out earlier today from NPD highlighted how tablets are taking over from notebooks as the mobile PC of choice. By coincidence, a survey has been published by Gartner today that sheds some light on the “how” behind that shift: more people are using tablets for the functions that used to be the preserve of PCs, such as checking email, social networking and checking the weather.

The survey also found that tablets are becoming a mainstay for people who read newspapers, magazines and books. More than 50 percent of respondents said they preferred to read on tablets instead of on paper. It’s not clear if ‘tablets’ in this case includes devices like the Kindle as well, but what’s clear so far is that a portable touchscreen is not replacing the physical versions of those completely, yet: it’s about “less paper” rather than “paperless”, Gartner says.

Gartner’s findings are from the end of 2011 and covering just over 500 consumers in the UK, U.S. and Australia, was run as a diary where people recorded what they did on their three most-used devices: those, it seems, were predetermined as tablets, mobile devices and PCs. The research does not look at the actual devices, to see whether the iPad, for example, is seeing more usage than an Android tablet.

Gartner found that just as it is with PCs, email was the most popular activity with respondents: 81 percent said they checked email on tablets. After that, newsreading was the second-most popular activity at 69 percent; checking weather was the third-most popular at 63 percent; social networking was at 62 percent; and gaming in third at 60 percent.

And what’s interesting is that while we’ve heard a lot from magazine, newspaper and book publishers about how the rise of tablets has changed their business models around, the Gartner survey gives us the other side of the deal: it shows that consumers are really using their tablets as a replacement for all three, with a majority of respondents, 51 percent, saying they preferred to get their periodical hit from their tablets more than the paper versions.

Carolina Milanesi, research vice president at Gartner, notes that tablets scored much higher as a printed matter replacement than phones or PCs.

“The rapid adoption of media tablets is substantively changing how consumers access, create and share content,” she writes. “On average, one in three respondents used their media tablets to read a book, compared with 13 percent for mobile PCs, and 7 percent for mobile phones.”

In fact, at home tablets seem to stand in a class of their own for consumers, in that they are used alongside whatever else a consumer is using; meanwhile, that “whatever else” is often shifting, from TV to PC to mobile device depending on what users are doing. Tablets, Gartner notes, are used most in the living room (87 percent), the bedroom (65 percent) and kitchen (47 percent), and less on the weekends than on weekdays, when we tend to be out of the house more.

And just as the NPD analysts pointed out that notebook PCs are being more tablet-like, here we get some confirmation from the consumer side that we clearly have a taste for the tablet form factor at the moment: they are small and lightweight, and that’s convenient. And while PCs are often shared commodities in a household, perhaps because of their size or price, or for the fact that they are not exactly designed to be shared, tablets occupy a personalized position more akin to the mobile handset: some 45 percent of respondents said they “do not share their tablet at all”.

Gartner also provided some survey feedback on how other devices are used. It noted that if tablets are dominant at home, mobile phones are the most dominant when considering day-long use. They are used eight times per day on average, the survey found. As a point of comparison, tablets are only used twice per day on average, and mobile PCs are used three times per day (although the hours spent in those times will, of course, vary). In terms of what they’re used for, it’s a spread similar to tablets, except that music is added in as a top-five activity (weather drops out).

Like tablets, mobiles are used most of all in the living room (78 percent). Gartner’s conclusion: TVs are fighting for users’ attention, which is also being captured by these portable devices. Mobile TV remains a very niche activity: only five percent of users said they watched mobile TV on their phones. On-demand content scored somewhat higher at 15 percent.

A bit on gender differences, too: while both use Internet at home more than outside the home, men say they use their devices for gathering information, while women say they use them for entertainment like gaming and socialising on sites like Facebook and Twitter.

Additional information is available in the Gartner report “Survey Analysis: Early Tablet Adopters and Their Daily Use of Connected Devices.” The report is available on Gartner’s website at.

* Note to Editors
In November 2011, Gartner interviewed 510 consumers via an online survey in the U.S., the U.K. and Australia. Respondents had to own a media tablet and at least two other connected devices.