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Where Do Tablets Belong? With Desktops or Smartphones?

17/03/2014 15:06 GMT | Updated 16/05/2014 10:59 BST

Most likely they deserve to be in a category of their own.

Mobile advertising will surpass desktop advertising by 2017 according to eMarketer's latest digital ad projections. The real reason why mobile advertising is booming is the incredibly fast rise of tablets. They are quickly becoming the top performing channel for advertisers due to the longer sessions consumers spend with them at home, and their quickly becoming a major on the way to conversion. Deloitte has predicted that tablet advertising revenues will substantially outpace smartphone ad dollars this year.

Tablets are used differently to smartphones, but for the purposes of media planning and measuring ad effectiveness they are often lumped together - which can be misleading. Advertisers planning media budgets, designing ad creative, and targeting audiences will make very different decisions if viewers are sitting comfortably on their sofas rather than typing with their thumbs walking to the train station.

Why are tablets considered mobile devices?

Smarthphone's and tablets are treated the same by researchers because they have the same technical limitations. Apple's mobile operating system - iOS - which continues to be the primary driver of mobile and tablet ads, does not enable third party cookies - a technology cornerstone for targeting and measuring ads in desktop browsers. Apps - heavily used in smartphones and tablets - also don't support third-party cookies.

Since market research relies on collecting advertising data, these common characteristics cause tablets and smartphones to be grouped together. The Interactive Advertising Bureau published last October figures for growth in digital advertising where the mobile category included smartphones and tablets. PwC, which acts as the research contractor for the digital revenue survey also included tablets and smartphones as mobile devices.

In 2012 all of the major forecasters of mobile data traffic lumped smartphones and tablets together including eMarketer, Forrester Research and IDC.

Tablets as desktop devices

One could argue that tablets, if they need to be bundled with another category, belong more with the "desktop" category. Tablet sales are often described as taking away from desktop sales and not from mobile phones. Tablet shipments increased 53.4 percent over the past year according to the latest figures from Gartner, while PC shipments declined 8.4 percent in 2013.

Based on recent research it appears that tablet traffic is growing as desktop usage declines. The BBC published last January data showing more people accessing iPlayer via tablet than via computer. Tom Loosemore, Deputy Director at GDS reported in the last two years tablet visits to GOV.UK have grown from 9% to 14% while computer access has declined from 77% to 63%.

The widening gap between tablets and smartphones is also is reflected in the huge differences in the costs of advertising. The pricing varies according to device, region, and other targeting parameters, but tablet inventory is priced typically 1.5 to 2x more than smartphones.

Tablets Require their Own Digital Strategy

Whether or not advertisers perceive tablets as being more like smart phones or desk tops, they have unique technical capabilities that influence the digital strategies that are used for engaging consumers. Tablets are used primarily with WIFI enabling advertisers to use an IP address for tracking. In addition consumers are more likely to use apps on tablets which provides more opportunities for in-app advertising.

According to Ipsos, 63% of tablet use is motivated by entertainment objectives driving brands to align their buying more heavily to entertainment and social media sites like Facebook, Twitter and Netflix. Smartphones are used on-the-go to communicate and connect - usually for short bursts of time. The real time nature of smartphone usage is driving an ever-higher amount of location based targeting to alert smart phone users of relevant offers where products are sold.

Because tablets are relatively close to PCs in terms of their overall size, they are much effective for high-impact rich media and in-stream video. Given the much more limited space on smartphones, interstitials - which appear between content pages - or native ads embedded within publisher content are usually better fits for the handset.

In the age of mini-tablets, phablets, convertibles, and smart watches, the lines between these devices are becoming increasingly blurred and the accepted categories of "desktop, tablet, and smartphone" needs to be updated. Tablets, due to their higher rates of success, need for customized creative and strategies to be in a separate category so that consumers can experience from all the capabilities they have to offer and advertisers can benefit from their full potential as an additional advertising channel.

This article is co-authored by David Scatterday, Product marketing manager, mobile; Sizmek