In its last quarter, Apple sold 9.25 million iPads, a year over year increase of 183%. That type of growth has manifested itself in significant levels of tablet-based web traffic and spawned a rush of competitors to try to duplicate Apple's formula, some almost literally so, if a recent EU injunction against Samsung's Galaxy Tab holds merit. The next major challenger in the space appears to be Amazon, whose success with the Kindle exceeded the expectations of many, but who would be entering a market with a clearly dominant leader in Apple.
Now Google has announced plans to acquire Motorola Mobility, a move that is largely about "strengthening Google's patent portfolio," but would also give Google a more direct line into mobile hardware, including tablets, as Motorola is one of few companies besides Apple to produce a tablet with any resonance with consumers.
Here at RKG we've followed mobile and tablet trending closely looking at over 10 million ad clicks a month across a sample of our client base. This update offers a view of our data through July, as well as some tips for advertisers and web developers.
iPad Traffic Growth
As a share of all ad clicks our clients receive across multiple channels, iPad traffic has grown exponentially since it was introduced in April 2010, outpacing unit sales growth by a healthy margin. This growth has been remarkably steady, with the only significant slowdown occurring from January to February of this year (iPad 2 came out in March and many appear to have waited for the update before purchasing.) iPad traffic share was nearly 3% in July of this year, a year over year increase of more than eightfold.
While not every website need race to create a tablet-friendly version of their site to improve the user experience for just 3% of their traffic, Google, with its attention to detail and seemingly limitless resources has done just that for its core search page.
For those with smaller web development teams, a simpler and more important task is to ensure that tablet traffic is not being lumped together with smartphone traffic and sent to a mobile version of your site, since most tablet users will prefer the full version. Anyone redirecting a user to a mobile site based on simply looking for the string "mobile" in a browser's user agent will find that this includes iPad users, so a more robust solution is needed.
Similarly for advertisers, as we've noted and recommended before, revenue per click for tablet users far exceeds that of smartphone users and even outpaces desktop slightly. Ad campaigns should be parsed by device to appropriately account for this traffic quality differential.
Combined tablet traffic is not much more than 3% of total traffic, meaning iPad comprises nearly all of it. We peg iPad's share of tablet traffic at 96%, with the Samsung Galaxy being the closest competitor at 1.4%. Motorola's Xoom is close behind at 1.3% while other Android devices combine for 1.3% as well.
In the 'Other' category we include both BlackBerry's PlayBook and HP's TouchPad, neither of which has yet to catch fire with consumers apparently, despite heavy television promotion. Notably, Sprint just canceled plans for a 4G version of the PlayBook citing "lack of demand from business customers."
Both the Xoom and Galaxy tablets run a version of the Android OS, so grouping all Android tablets together brings Android's share of tablet traffic to a respectable 4%. It was only a couple of years ago when Android was in a similar position in the smartphone race.
What about Windows?
Our figures above are similar to May data released by Comscore, which had iPad at 97% of tablet share and Android at 2.7%. By either view, one would have to assume Windows is essentially out of the picture, but it depends on how you define a tablet.
About 0.9% of our clients' total traffic originates from Windows devices identifying themselves as having tablet capabilities. The problem is that those capabilities may run the gamut from the old-fashioned pen input to full multitouch and it's not easy to distinguish which devices are which.
If we include all Windows devices with tablet capabilities under our definition of a tablet, they would account for nearly 22% of tablet traffic. Clearly that is not how Comscore defined the term and a quick check on Google Analytics suggests that they are not defining it that way either.
When Windows 8 is released it will feature a new tablet friendly UI that could allow the desktop OS giant to make inroads in the tablet market now epitomized by the iPad. Microsoft would be doing themselves a favor by making it easier to identify their Windows 8 tablets, as the perception of the popularity of a device or OS can have a significant impact on its ultimate success or failure.
|Sidebar: Deciphering User Agents
While there are resources to help web developers identify the multitudes of mobile devices out there via their user agent descriptions, it is surprising how non-standardized those descriptions are and it's easy to understand how misclassifications can get made.
For example, nowhere in the user agent string for any of the line of Samsung Galaxy tablets will you find the words "Samsung", "Galaxy" or "tablet." Instead, the only obvious distinguishing characteristics are the various model numbers for each.
Also, as noted above, iPad user agents contain the word "mobile", but Android tablet user agents do not. Neither include the word "tablet" in their descriptions, but the less popular PlayBook and TouchPad do. Google itself touched on these issues earlier this year.
As we grow to expect different user experiences on different device types, it seems that better identification standards will be needed to make it clear how each user is manipulating the web and what their likely UI preference will be.
Android vs iOS
In the larger battle between the iOS and Android operating systems running across all mobile and tablet devices we see a picture roughly in line with what Apple presented during its 2011 WWDC keynote. iOS held a traffic share of 69% in July 2011, with Android at just under 27%. Everyone else struggled to gain or maintain their foothold in the space:
Remember that these are traffic levels, specifically ad clicks, not unit sales or units shipped. While Android has gained a lot of ground in the last year on the smartphone front, we still see the iPhone generating more ad clicks for our clients than Android phones, which may speak to demographic differences (i.e. propensity to click ads) as much as web usage levels.
Mobile and tablet devices now account for about 8% of all web traffic we see, but with Apple now flirting with being the world's largest corporation by market cap, the stakes are clearly huge here. Don't expect the competition on the shelves or in the courts to subside even a bit. Google's $12.5B acquisition of Motorola is a game changer that reflects their commitment to mobile and they look ready to fight Apple with everything they've got.