Although neither can yet compete with traditional desktops and notebooks for accessing the internet, tablets already account for a greater share of web use than smartphones despite being a newer and less popular device.
The results of the latest Adobe Digital Index, which tracked over 100 billion visits to more than 1,000 websites globally from 2007 to 2013, reveal just how fast tablets are being adopted and just how much they are driving page views. The index monitored web use in the U.S., China, U.K., Canada, Australia, Japan, France and Germany and found that while smartphones account for 7% of webpage views, tablets already account for 8%.
Smartphone ownership at tipping point
Commentators with short memories like to think that, as it was the year the iPhone was launched, 2007 is also the year that the smartphone was invented. While smartphones have been around for much longer, their first big spike in popularity was thanks to Apple, so it's an interesting coincidence that Adobe's figures cover 2007.
To understand just how big the smartphone market has become, the latest figures from research firm ABI show that smartphone shipments are already set to overtake feature phone shipments in 2013 (accounting for 50.1% of the global market) and that by 2018 some 2.4 billion smartphone handsets will ship annually, equal to 69% of the world's mobile phone market.
As such, smartphone ownership has already hit the 50% tipping point in the U.S., Spain, Italy and the U.K. over the past 12 months.
Tablets preferred for web browsing
However, the first iPad was launched in 2010, meaning that the modern concept of a tablet has only existed for three years. Despite being a new product class, and an expensive one at that -- an iPad can cost anywhere up to $800 (or $929 with 4G LTE connectivity) -- the fact that they have already overtaken smartphones for web browsing is astonishing and suggests that their primary use as devices is for surfing the net, rather than any other purpose, something Adobe's data supports.
Adobe found that tablet owners view 70% more pages per visit than smartphone owners and that while there is a good variation of web-based activities on both devices, online shopping appears to be a very popular pastime on tablets. Online retailers account for more web traffic than any other type of site viewed on a tablet but automotive and travel and hospitality sites are also popular.
U.K. and U.S. lead the pack
Nielsen's 2012 State of the Media Cross Platform Report put tablet ownership at hovering between 19% and 20% of U.S. homes while a YouGov survey commissioned in January suggests that 30% of U.K. households also have a tablet. Adobe's data supports these figures. Its report claims that the U.K. leads the other countries monitored in terms of tablet page views (12.2% of all mobile web use via a tablet). The U.S. is second (9.1%) with Canada third (8.7%).
Chinese consumers were the least likely to surf with a tablet but Adobe claims that tablet use has doubled over the last 12 months in all regions studied and the company expects use to double again over the course of 2013. However, tablets and smartphones both have a long way to go if they are to surpass the PC, which still accounts for 84% of all web pages accessed.
Writing in a blog post to accompany the research, Adobe's Tyler White says: "Just a year ago in January we uncovered that visitors using tablets spend 54% more per online order than their counterparts on smartphones, and 19% more than desktop/laptop users. During the past holiday shopping season we saw that 13.5% of all online sales were transacted via tablets. And last month before the Super Bowl we learned that online viewership via tablets doubles during big sporting events."