Tablets: A Tipping Point for Mobile Advertising

My wife wants an Amazon Kindle Fire for Christmas, and my mother, a Barnes & Noble Nook. They are hardly alone. These two moderately priced pieces of techno-wizardry should put the tablet permanently on the map. What does this new reality of tablet technology mean for advertisers and businesses in general?


Let's first swipe the screen back to some browser history... In the beginning, there was Apple. Apple's iPad was bigger than a smartphone, smaller than a laptop, essentially an e-reader with benefits. It promised to be sexy, but would it catch on?

Fast forward to fall of 2011, the tablet had captured 10 percent of the American market--a phenomenon attributable largely to the iPad--but still less than the 35 percent who had acquired a smartphone and the 53% percent with a cell phone--easily upgradable to a data plan. Beyond our shores, in developing parts of the world, many are forgoing traditional computers altogether and skipping straight to smartphones.

Smartphones are in the vanguard of the trend toward mobility. Tablets are in the rearguard, sometimes the sole mobile device owned, but more often, complementing smartphone use.

Why need both? Aside from reliance on Internet connections (Wi-Fi) or cell phone towers (and the fact that one is actually a phone), the differences come down to size of screen, quality of graphics, memory, and usability: tablets make reading e-books, watching movies or surfing the web that much easier and more enjoyable.

Under the Google banner of Android, the non-Apple forces have been marshaling outside the gates that Steve Jobs built, hoping to penetrate the holiday market with competitively priced hardware (the Fire and Nook) as a way to reach the real money--streaming and downloadable content. If early bird sales for the Fire and Nook are any indication, this could be a watershed year for tablets, launching them as a permanent fixture.

So what are the takeaways for marketers and businesses?

  1. Mobile is the medium. Tablets accelerate the trend to the untethered digital world. It follows that advertising must be mobile-friendly. For example, Adobe Flash works with the Fire and Nook, but not with Apple. Why produce a web page that won't display properly for a large number of users? The handful of technologies that distribute the message become primary facilitators or obstacles.
  2. Social media are on the rise... againThe tablet is one more device that entices users to share content across multiple platforms, such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. Tablets are generally larger than smartphones--that means no frustrating tapping at just the right angle or zooming in to post a link or a "like".
  3. Geolocation is the value-added dimension. Tablets accelerate the FourSquare and Facebook Places technology that points you to a nearby eatery--and lets you know how other diners have rated it.
  4. Tablets are the new laptopAt less than $250 (Amazon and Barnes & Noble are selling them at a loss), the Fire and Nook can function as inexpensive laptops. Neither comes with 3G or 4G; rather, they connect via Wi-Fi. The iPad2, at twice the cost, features both 3G and Wi-Fi, but surfing the Net over the 3G can be very expensive. With Wi-Fi virtually ubiquitous, 3G may not matter. In schools--from kindergarten all the way to postgraduate years--the potential to serve many different audiences as a sort of "fleet vehicle" is huge. Public libraries--which often offer open access to Wi-Fi networks--are adopting tablets for roving reference tools and for patrons to check out, along with endless e-books.
  5. Tablets are the new bricks and mortarConsider that Barnes & Noble invested heavily in the Nook as competitors declared bankruptcy. Downloadable content is now accessible from anywhere, and there's no longer a need to visit the bookstore (although the coffee shop is still an incentive). In this busy holiday season, when finding a parking space is a full-time occupation, tablets look mighty fine.