The Revolution Will Be Tablet-ized

Last month, the Pew Internet Life Project released survey results indicating that over one-third of American adults own a tablet. That’s amazing given that the figure was merely 18 percent a year ago. The data are even more impressive for specific audience segments: 56 percent of adults in households with incomes over $75,000; 49 percent of all adults 35 to 44 years old; and 49 percent of adults who are college graduates. Tablets’ broad appeal undermines those who think (or hope) they are just a passing fad: my mom and both my sisters – none of whom works in media or technology – love their tablets, and it would not surprise me if my little niece (who just turned two) has one on her Christmas wish list. The mainstreaming of tablets holds implications for the whole media industry.

The first implication of the rise of the tablet is that if you’re not tailoring content for the tablet audience, you’re late to the game. Having a smartphone-optimized site is still vital of course, but ensuring that your site performs well and looks good on a tablet is becoming nearly as important.

Responsive design, or a hybrid of responsive and adaptive design, will be increasingly important as the need to deliver a great experience on multifarious tablet screens grows. When planning a move to a responsive site, companies confront the question of designing for PC first, and stripping stuff out, or phone first, and adding stuff in – or tablet-first, and then scaling upwards and downwards from there. That third option seemed a little untenable when 10 percent of the population had tablets, but now I expect it will gain traction.

The mainstreaming of tablets may also accelerate a need to revisit creative standards. The IAB Mobile Rising Stars offer five standardized ad units that create excellent branding opportunities for tablets. And indeed, a recent survey of IAB members who sell tablet ads found encouraging adoption of several of the Rising Stars on tablet-optimized websites.

However, the most common tablet ad sizes sold in our survey were the 300×250 and the 728×90, two venerable IAB web standards that happen to fit pretty well on diverse screen sizes. If those banner sizes plus the Rising Stars plus video ads suffice, great. But if brands and agencies feel that existing tablet ad sizes don’t serve their needs, or don’t bring enough scale, that would spur an IAB Tablet Committee project to address the marketplace demand.

A third implication of the rise of tablets is the increasing need to measure and understand audience and ad interaction behavior on them. When tablets were a rounding error on the mobile device landscape, that kind of a close look was unnecessary. Now, though, Adobe estimates that tablets generate more web page views worldwide than smartphones do.

Figuring out how to segment and measure usage across this device landscape is a real challenge – and there is a session devoted to the topic at the upcoming IAB Ad Technology Marketplace conference. Are tablets like phones when in portrait mode and like TVs or PCs in landscape mode? Are small-sized tablets more like phones or like tablets? Looking at metrics for every device separately makes the data impossible to navigate. Still, unless we have a good framework for rolling the data up, we risk confounding things that should stay separate, and making bad business decisions as a result.

In a remarkably short time, tablets have gone from an interesting novelty to a digital media force to be reckoned with. Perhaps the ultimate chameleon device, tablets combine the most attractive elements of TVs, PCs, smartphones, and even print publications. This is the secret of their success, and should drive publishers, agencies, and brands alike to accelerate efforts to deliver great content experiences and engaging, scalable advertising, and devise better ways to measure who’s watching and what’s working.

Image on home page via Shutterstock.

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