IDC's tablet sales breakdown. The Others category at top is composed mainly of low-cost tablets plus Amazon's Kindle Fire -- the tablet world's version of netbooks, which don't show up much in Web usage surveys. You can see that the Others category has shrunk slightly since last year, likely due to people graduating to higher-end devices, especially in the Android world.
Bajarin likens those devices to netboooks, a category of laptop that saw a few years of high growth, then got killed off by tablets. Netbooks had terrible performance, even though they were cheap, and quickly fell into disuse. I suspect many cheapo tablets have a similar trajectory as disposable, impulse buys. Others are relegated to offline uses, such as keeping kids from fighting on long car rides or providing entertainment for adults on a long flight, but otherwise sit idle.
Such episodic use is not a criticism -- my iPad Mini serves a similar role, though it can and is sometimes used to do much more -- but an acknowldgement that just as PCs have many uses, so do mobile devices. However, we tend to think of them monolithically, likely because they are new.
That makes sense to me. But one thing that doesn't is the sizable discrepancy in Web usage between Android devices and iOS devices in the United States, relative to their market share. Given that a smartphone incurs a monthly extra cost of $40 to $60 -- a small fortune for many people -- for the privilege of data access, why on earth would people buy them, then not take regular advantage of that data connectivity?
Bajarin thinks he knows why: People who tend to buy Android smartphones, and now Windows Phones (more popular in Europe than in the United States), are attracted by the cheaper prices and tend to be coming from regular cellphones. Thus, they're not really clear what a smartphone can do for them, and they tend to use them like their old cellphones: to talk and text, plus do some social networking.
But, Bajarin notes, such users tend to figure out that a smartphone is more than a cellphone with a touch screen, so they often trade up to a more capable model after their contract expires -- and begin to take better advantage of what a smartphone can do. We early adopters tend to forget that it takes years for such revolutionary techbnology to get broad, meaningful adoption. That's now happening.
Still, there'll be different levels of usage for smartphones, and moreso for tablets, just as there are for PCs 30-plus years after they debuted. Maybe we'll devise a more meaningful classification system for mobile devices. Or maybe, as in the case of PCs, we'll let price be that proxy and stop trying to equate usage with overall market share.
This article, "When a smartphone is not a smartphone, and a tablet is not a tablet," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Read more of Galen Gruman's Mobile Edge blog and follow the latest developments in mobile technology at InfoWorld.com. Follow Galen's mobile musings on Twitter at MobileGalen. For the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.