During its Q3 2013 earnings call today, Microsoft’s outgoing CFO Peter Klein noted that the company plans to bring Windows 8 to smaller devices. Until now, Windows 8 was mostly geared toward desktops and larger tablets, including Microsoft’s own Surface and RT machines.
With the forthcoming Windows 8 Blue, rumor had it that Microsoft would enable its OEMs to run Windows 8 on smaller devices, too. Klein confirmed this on today’s call, though he mostly talked about OEMs and did not mention whether Microsoft also plans to launch a smaller Surface tablet, though that’s probably a fair bet, too. Currently, there are no sub-10-inch Windows 8 tablets on the market, but according to Klein, we will hear more about these in the coming months.
During the Q&A phase, Klein also noted that Microsoft is working on “expanding and improving the experience, not just for Surface, but for Windows 8 devices at multiple price points, including lower price points going forward.” Earlier this week, Intel’s outgoing CEO Paul Otellini also noted that his company wants to ensure that OEMs can build Windows 8 machines for under $200 soon.
In addition, Klein also acknowledged that the transition to Windows 8 isn’t easy, but the company remains “excited about the opportunities ahead of [it].” According to Klein, Windows 8 has prepared Microsoft well for the transition from desktops to touch devices. “We still have a lot of work ahead of us, but we feel comfortable about where we are going.”
He also expects to see more – and more attractive – Windows 8 touch-enabled devices to come on the market in the near future, too, and he thinks these will become more attractive.
Flurry, an app analytics firm with a presence on some now 1 billion mobile devices, has taken another deep dive into its large data set to examine the increasingly fragmented selection of hardware form factors on the market today, in an effort to better understand consumer preferences. The report concludes that people most prefer and use apps on medium-sized smartphones, like those in the Samsung Galaxy line, and full-sized tablets like the iPad. “Phablets,” meanwhile, Flurry dubs a “fad,” saying that they don’t show significant, or even disproportionally significant, app usage.
To reach these conclusions, Flurry’s report looked at the top 200 device models in its database, which represent over 80 percent of all usage. It then broke down the devices into the following five groups:
1. Small phones (e.g., most Blackberries), 3.5” or under screens
2. Medium phones (e.g., iPhone), between 3.5” – 4.9” screens
3. Phablets (e.g., Galaxy Note), 5.0” – 6.9” screens
4. Small Tablets (e.g., Kindle Fire), 7.0” – 8.4” screens
5. Full-size tablets (e.g., the iPad), 8.5” or greater screens
You can see the distribution of these devices in the chart below – e.g., 16 percent have screen sizes 3.5 inches or smaller (in diagonal length); 69 percent are 3.5 to 4.9 inches – a large group which includes the iPhone; 6 percent are small tablets like the Kindle Fire and iPad mini; 7 percent are full-sized tablets like the iPad. Meanwhile, just 2 percent of devices are “phablets.”
But as you may already know, device distribution doesn’t always equate to how those platforms are actually being used by consumers. Android users, for example, despite the platform’s dominant global market share, show less engagement than iOS users overall, and watch less video.
So Flurry compared the device install base with the number of active users and app sessions. The conclusions support the trends we’ve been hearing about for some time. For instance, even though small-screened devices account for 16 percent of devices in the market, only 7 percent are “active devices,” once users per device are taken into account, and only represent 4 percent of overall app sessions.
For tablets, however, it’s the opposite – despite their small market share (7 percent of the top 200), they represent 15 percent of active users and 13 percent of active sessions.
Flurry says this is because on the small end, users are on older phones, like Blackberry models, so there are fewer active users per model. These small devices are also obviously not ideal for running and using apps. And tablets, of course, are.
However, on the in-between screen sizes known as “phablets,” their install base is 2 percent, while active users and sessions is just 3 percent. “Phablets are a fad,” proclaims Flurry in its post about this finding.
The OS-specific data is fairly obvious. Medium-sized phones are the dominant form factor across all operating systems except Blackberry, the report also notes. Android dominantes the “phablet” market, while iOS dominates large tablets. The only Windows Phone devices in the top 200 are medium-sized phones.
What is interesting is are the app trends across form factors. “Tablets are gaming machines,” says Flurry, noting that a third of time spent gaming now takes place on larger tablets like the iPad, as well as small tablets and phablets. “And while they command consumer time spent, they represented only 15% of device models in use in February and 21% of individual connected devices. These differences are statistically significant,” the post notes.
And oddly enough, despite the tablets’ larger screens, they don’t see a larger portion of time spent in the books and video categories. Flurry speculates that’s because consumers are consuming a lot of text and video on their smartphones already.
The report concludes that developers concentrate their efforts on medium-sized devices and tablets, not phablets and other small-screened phones.
The proportion of web traffic coming from tablets has pushed past smartphones for the first time, according to Adobe’s latest Digital Index which has tracked more than 100 billion visits to 1,000+ websites worldwide, between June 2007 to date, to compare which device types are driving the most page views. The monitored markets are the U.K, U.S., China, Canada, Australia, Japan, France and Germany. While the difference between smartphone and tablet traffic is marginal — with tablets accounting for eight per cent of the measured page views and smartphones seven per cent — the growth in tablet page views is impressive, especially considering how new the category is (the first iPad launched in April 2010).
Of course both mobile device types still account for a fraction of the total share of page views when compared to desktops/laptops — which accounted for 84 per cent of the page views, according to Adobe’s data – but both are taking a growing share, and tablet growth is on an especially steep trajectory:
Adobe attributes the rise of tablet page views to how well-suited the form factor is for web browsing, with the most obvious attribute being tablets’ larger screen size vs smartphones (albeit, that gap is closing as some tablets shrink and some smartphones swell). On average, Adobe found that Internet users view 70 per cent more pages per visit when browsing with a tablet compared to a smartphone — so tablet users are doing more leisurely (and presumably leisure time) browsing.
While there is a good spread of different activities across both tablets and smartphones, Adobe’s index indicates that online shopping is a particularly popular activity for tablet users. Retail websites receive the highest share of tablet traffic across all industries, according to its data, while automotive and travel shopping websites also get a “significant share” of tablet traffic:
Writing on its digital index blog, Adobe adds:
We’ve been keeping a close eye on how quickly tablets have taken off. Just ayear 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 Bowlwe learned that online viewership via tablets doubles during big sporting events. Now we know that not only is tablet traffic more valuable in terms of ecommerce and engagement, tablets have also become the primary device for mobile browsing.
The U.K. leads Adobe’s Index for tablet page views, with the U.S. second:
All countries tracked saw their share of traffic from tablets double over the course of 2012 — a trend Adobe expects to continue through 2013. It added that some slight dips in tablet share in certain countries in November were down to PC traffic surging, rather than tablet page views dropping:
The Galaxy Note 8.0 — the newest device in Samsung’s many-sized range of tablets, unveiled today at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona — has just managed to trump Apple’s iPad Mini in the small tablet category with one-tenth of an inch more of screen space (more on the device in our hands-on). At the same time, Samsung is also introducing a few new services and features — including expanded hovering capabilities and more apps, which it hopes will also help it gain more consumer ground against the world’s biggest tablet maker. The extra features show that Samsung sees improved services and content this as key to improving its market share in the tablet space.
Samsung’s S Pen stylus has been upgraded to work both on the touchscreen of the Note 8.0 as well as with the physical navigation buttons, and Samsung is also extending the functionality of the pen in other ways. And the Air View feature, where users can initiate previews by hovering their pen over something without touching the screen, is now getting expanded to third party apps. The first of these is a new version of the Flipboard social newsreading app, where users can select and expand a tile by hovering the pen over a selection.
Yes, you can argue that this is more of a gimmick than a useful element at this point: why, exactly, do you need to hover the pen over the over a tile when it’s just as easy to tap and select? And isn’t the point of the touchscreens that you can “touch” them? But I can also see how this could become more useful as the feature develops and gets used elsewhere. For example, one of the annoying issues with touchscreens are accidental clicks, such as those made on ads when you are trying to navigate around an app.
Companies like Google are introducing ways of reducing accidental clicks; others are even playing around with the touchscreen to de-sensitize them for those with less precise fingers. But the hovering pen — whose pin of light needs to rest for a brief moment to select an item — could be another way to select what you want to see and do.
In addition to the Flipboard app, the hovering already works with file folders, email, gallery views of photos and videos, a spokesperson notes, and it will also work with more apps in the future, as developers upgrade them to recognize and respond to the S Pen’s proximity to the screen.
With the Note 8.0, Samsung is also ushering in a couple of new developments on the apps front, in addition to the new version of Flipboard.
In keeping with Samsung’s original vision of the Note acting as a kind of organizer and productivity device — more screen than a phone for planning; but smaller than a tablet to make it portable — Samsung has scooped an exclusive on a new Android app launch. Awesome Note, a note-taking that lets you track progress and make lists across different categories, has up to now only been available for iOS devices, where the full edition of the app for iPad retails at $4.99.
Now developers Bird are releasing an Android version, and while this will also be sold as a paid app in the Google Play store, Samsung will be bundling it as a free app on the Note 8.0 “for at least a year,” according to Michael Lin, marketing manager, Samsung Electronics.
Other apps that will be preloaded on the device include the newest version (2.0) of Chat-On, Samsung’s cross-platform, cross-media group and direct messaging service; Reading Mode that modifies the screen brightness for reading; and Smart Remote, Samsung’s universal remote control and electronic program guide, playing into the fact that nowadays a lot of consumers (80% in the U.S., claims Samsung) use a second device like a tablet while watching TV.
The camera features, as Chris pointed out, are not brilliant on the Note 8.0 — and so we may not see too many people doing this with them:
Nor, it seems, will we see many people in some parts of the world using the Note 8.0 to do this:
Although the Galaxy Note 8.0 is incorporating, as Lin says, “all of the capabilities of a smartphone into a tablet,” the phone feature will be disabled on the device when it launches in the U.S., both in the initial WiFi version as well as in the 3G/LTE versions. Whether this is because carriers have asked Samsung to remove this to keep the device from cannibalizing handset sales, or whether it’s because of consumer taste, or for another reason entirely, is not clear.
It’s a pity, because while you may not want always to talk on your tablet, it can come in useful as an occasional phone, both for video and voice calls. Our test of the phone found the voice quality decent.
The voice calling feature will be included in the device when it launches in other parts of the world, Samsung says.
Nortre Dame cathedral photo: Tumblr
HP is looking into getting back into the mobile hardware game, according to a new report from ReadWrite which the Verge says is being confirmed from their own sources. HP famously bought webOS and then brought a tablet to market based on that Palm-developed platform, the TouchPad, which ended up being a dismal failure that the company shut down very quickly.
HP had also launched a smartphone, the Veer 4G based on webOS, but that also proved ineffective at capturing the attention of consumers. The company is apparently still looking to get back into the hardware game after a hiatus spanning a couple of years, however, with a new tablet featuring an NVIDIA Tegra 4 processor, which ReadWrite pegs for an imminent announcement, and is also considering Android-based smartphone for future development. Verge reports that the timeline sounds good, but scheduling could change for a tablet launch.
After HP CEO Meg Whitman took over, she announced that the company would ultimately offer a smartphone to keep up with the fact that for many in the developing world, such a device is now their first and maybe only computer. That launch isn’t planned for 2013, however, Whitman later stated.
But back in late 2011, Whitman did make statements to the effect that HP could create webOS-powered tablets again in 2013. While these reports suggest webOS is likely off the table, HP could stick to Whitman’s target plan of fielding a tablet device based on a mobile OS this year, but one based on Android instead of its own product, which it has since open-sourced.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that HP would dip its toes back in the mobile hardware pool even after suffering such a reversal the first time around. The fact is that mobile is where the computing industry is going, and Apple’s iPad is almost singlehandedly propping up the sagging fortunes of traditional mobile PC form factors like notebooks. And HP missed earnings expectations in Q4 2012, thanks in part to a continuing “decline in hardware.”
A tablet isn’t a panacea for HP, however. The Android tablet market still has yet to find a champion that can compare to the iPad’s popularity, and there is plenty of competition out there for buyer attention. Fielding a device that impresses above and beyond what’s already out there, at a price point that turns heads is a basic requirement for Android tablet success at this point, from HP or from anyone else.