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Stop Calling Tablets Mobile Devices

Apples-and-Oranges-tablets [1]

My team publishes The Search Agency’s quarterly State of Paid Search Report [2] which tracks a number of key paid search metrics segmented by search engine, industry, and device.

dissertation and thesis [3]

Google and Bing give us the ability to segment our clients’ paid search data into four device categories – desktop, tablet, smartphone, and non-smartphone.  The meteoric rise of search activity on smartphones and tablets – most of it at the expense of desktops – has been one of the most important trends to come out of our data.  These categories are nebulous at best [4], but I was struck by how many analysts and reporters choose to lump tablets and smartphones together under the category of “mobile devices” and keep desktop as its own umbrella category encompassing desktops, laptops, and super computers.  For example, in one of our recent studies we found that 9.8% of paid clicks came from tablets and 13.6% came from smartphones.  A few different publications combined these metrics to report that “mobile [is] driving nearly 25% of paid search clicks [5]” and year-over-year, “Paid search clicks on mobile devices grew 89% [6]

I understand that “non-desktop” or “non-PC” doesn’t have quite the same panache.  But categorizing smartphones and tablets together under the broad category of “mobile” seems as if we’re mixing apples and oranges.  It reminds me of the old Sesame Street song – One of These Things is Not Like the Other [7].  The search experience for both advertiser and consumer can vary greatly between desktops, smartphones, and tablets.  And if we think of mobile connectivity as a continuum with desktops on one end and smartphones on the other, tablets certainly fall somewhere in the middle.  But when it comes to user context – time, location, intent – there seems to be greater alignment between desktops and tablets than there is between tablets and smartphones.  As Larry Kim points out, this is one of the reasons why Google has removed the distinction between tablets and desktops in enhanced campaigns [8].

Once the migration to enhanced campaigns [9] is complete, there will hopefully be less of an inclination to lump tablets and smartphones together.  Until then, I offer my four reasons to stop calling tablets mobile devices [10].   Have a read and let us know how we should categorize these devices going forward.

About Alec Green

Alec serves as Mother Hen of The Search Agents, making sure contributors mind their P's and Q's and never write the seven words you can't say on television. He's been called a "social media hater" who longs for the days of door-to-door selling and advertising in the phone book.