Carrier Evolution

A growing debate about smart phones is likely to erupt in coming years about the precise difference between a smaller tablet and a larger smart phone, if only because the dominant use case for both devices is shifting to content consumption.

To be sure, “phones” will be much more convenient communications devices for quite some time. But smart phone owners already are using their devices in ways that suggest the smart phone is the most popular small screen content consumption device, albeit a content consumption device that is really handy for communications as well.

Consumers are more likely to use smart phones than tablets for most “mobile”activities measured in a recent GfK study; but tablets do win out when it comes to viewing full TV episodes and other activities where longer time frames and larger screen sizes can be decisive factors.

In fact, consumers are more likely to use smart phones for 11 out of 15 common uses, including searching the Internet, listening to music, and filming video. Users preferred tablets for game playing, watching TV programs, and reading books or magazines.

“The amount of time that people spend using smart phones is creating a sense of comfort that seems to trump concerns about screen size,” says David Tice, GfK SVP. “As smart phones become larger and more viewing oriented, they may erode the tablet’s advantages for even long viewing sessions.

Comfort with using the smart phone as a media device varied greatly among key age groups. Among smart phone viewers in Generation X (ages 33 to 46), 44 percent reported that they watch both clips and full episodes of TV shows on smart phones, compared to 24 percent for Generation Y (ages 13 to 32) and 17 percent for Baby Boomers (ages 47 to 54).

In addition, 22 percent of Generation Y smart phone viewers report that their smart phone viewing is replacing time with regular TV, compared to 14 percent for Generation X and Baby Boomers.

The new report also shows that, across eight program genres, 65 percent to 86 percent of smart phone viewers said that the small-screen experience is either “as good as regular TV” or “good enough.”

Generation Y (Millennials) was most likely to report this agnostic view of screen size, based on interviews with 1,001 smart phone or tablet owners ages 13 to 54.