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iPad usage demystified – What the hell are people using their iPads for?

By Alok Saboo on June 3rd, 2010

Since the launch of the iPad (and even before that) there has been lot of debate on the utility of the iPad as a separate product. Many, including Robert Scoble, have vehemently argued about how the iPad is changing almost all the rules of the game. Some, on the other hand, have argued why the iPad may not be the best device for everyone. Despite this debate, the iPad is selling like hot cakes, which makes me wonder what is the value that people are seeking or getting out of their iPads. To unearth the motivation of users buying the iPad, I decided to take a deeper look into the usage patterns on the iPad.

Methodology

One approach would be to ask current iPad owners about their usage patterns. However, this approach has problems associated with survey techniques, including sample size and respondent selection, not to mention the challenges of conducting such a survey. To get a broader and a representative picture, I used an alternative approach. I used the Top 200 free and paid iPad apps as listed by Appshopper and compared them with the top 200 free and paid iPhone apps – giving me 400 data points each for both iPad and iPhone. The iPhone apps provide a baseline to analyze iPad usage. This is important as app download does not necessarily indicate app usage (although it is a good proxy). If the app download figures are skewed, they should be skewed in a similar fashion across the two platforms, thus mitigating the discrepancy between app download and app usage. The results are presented below.

iPhone_vs_iPad

iPhone vs. iPad Usage Patterns

Let us starts by looking at the charts for the top 200 apps free and paid apps for both the products.

Top 200 Free and Paid iPhone apps

Top 200 Free and Paid iPad apps

The difference is stark!!

While Games constitute almost half of iPhone usage, they account for only about a quarter on the iPad. In general, on the iPhone the usage is restricted to a few categories of apps. The  top three categories on the iPhone (i.e., Games, Entertainment, and Utilities) account for over 75% of usage. In contrast, on the iPad the top three categories (i.e., Games, Entertainment, and Productivity) account for only 46%. The iPad is clearly being used for a variety of purposes.

While there are important differences, I would like to draw your attention to the difference between the reading habits. Reading constitutes an important element on the iPad. For example, Books, News, and Education apps are far more important in case of iPad, accounting for around 20% usage, whereas they only account for about 3% on the iPhone.

The charts for free and paid apps separately lead to similar conclusion (click on the charts for a larger view).

iPhone Usage iPad Usage
Top 200 Free iPhone apps Top 200 Free iPad apps
Top 200 Paid iPhone apps Top 200 Paid iPad apps

While this analysis was illuminating, I decided to dig deeper. I looked at the descriptions of the top 50 paid and free (i.e., total 100) iPad apps. Using the descriptions provided on the App store, I created a word cloud. Please note that I have removed common English words (e.g., as, in) and other words that you would expect in the App descriptions (e.g., Apple, great) so that the resulting cloud provides an insight into the usage pattern on the iPad.

Word Cloud of top 50 free and paid iPad apps decriptions

The above cloud provides a further confirmation. As expected, words such as “game”, “play”, “players”, “control”, “level”, “racing”, etc. highlight the importance of gaming on the iPad. Interestingly, we see lot of words highlighting other uses of the iPad. For example, words such as “read”, “news”, “world”, “reading”, “documents”, “pdf”, “text”, “content”, “page”, “books”, “information”, “save”, “kindle”, etc. highlight the value placed on reading on the iPad. Next, words such as “graphics”, “images”, “videos”, “photos”, “color”, “music”, “watch”, “interactive”, “tv”, etc. indicate the importance of media consumption.  

Clearly, there is a lot more going on with the iPad then on the iPhone. Further, as visualized by Apple, it appears that the iPad is more a media consumption device (at least for now). Although it is heartening to identify and document these differences, the results are broadly along expected lines. To a large extent, the differences that we found are a function of the larger screen size. The larger screen lends itself very well to a variety of uses not possible on a smaller (smartphone) screen. It will be interesting to carry out a similar analysis comparing the iPad with a netbook or with another (possibly Android) tablet. I am confident that the difference would be even dramatic. Further, the results are driven by the nature of apps available for the iPad. We can argue that the current crop of apps for the iPad do not leverage the capabilities of the device. But heck, we can do a similar analysis in the future :)

Would love to hear your thoughts on this?

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  • shiplu

    This is a very nice website ,i am very glad to see the site. i Pad Touch and i Phone, the i Pad runs a modified version of the i Phone OS and is controlled by a -touch LCD sensitive to fingertips, instead of a stylus as with earlier tablet computers.[16][17][18] It runs i Pad-specific applications as well as those written for the i Phone and i Pod Touch, including e-book readers.

    The i Pad uses WI-Fi or a 3G data connection to browse the Internet, load and stream media, and install software.[19][20][21] A BUS cable is required to sync the i Pad with iTunes on a personal computer

  • Gdexa

    Nice post but i personality mean that most of people use iPad for go on facebook,News,shopping online,..etc but less peapole use for games because iPad is not so good for games

  • http://truvoipbuzz.com Alok Saboo

    That is a good point and that was my initial assumption, but guess there are enough gamers skewing the distribution. Just to illustrate the point, I always thought the iPhone was used for more productive tasks than gaming, but turns out that I was wrong. Gamers are the biggest segment of users (or at least that where the maximum action is on the iTunes).

  • Gdexa

    Nice post but i personality mean that most of people use iPad for go on facebook,News,shopping online,..etc but less peapole use for games because iPad is not so good for games

  • http://truvoipbuzz.com Alok Saboo

    That is a good point and that was my initial assumption, but guess there are enough gamers skewing the distribution. Just to illustrate the point, I always thought the iPhone was used for more productive tasks than gaming, but turns out that I was wrong. Gamers are the biggest segment of users (or at least that where the maximum action is on the iTunes).

  • Roland

    Any idea what the percentage of time is spent browsing the web on iPads versus using apps?

  • http://truvoipbuzz.com Alok Saboo

    It will be interesting to have these stats, but for a variety of reasons Apple will not provide these figures. And any third party may not have access to these details. What would be your guess…

  • https://twitter.com/#!/addysingla Aditya Singla

    this is a good analysis. good job saboo

    • http://truvoipbuzz.com Alok Saboo

      Thanks :)

  • Chuck_petit

    Man do you need to get a copy of Edward R Tufte’s seminal “The Visual Display of Quantitative Information,” 2nd edition – Hardcover (May 2001) $28.00 on Amazon and get a copy for everyone at our shop who has anything to do with graphics. And get it today before you botch any more graphics. Your pie charts are just terrible! Just like the stupid default in PowerPoint, the pies are tilted, distorting the shape of the slices…which pretty much negates the whole purpose of a pie chart in the first place! And the color codes are simply indecipherable on my monitor. So where is the table of your results? Clicking on “bigger” was no help, thank you.

    • http://truvoipbuzz.com Alok Saboo

      Thanks for your comments, but I looked at the charts again and they look perfectly fine to me. Not sure if there is an issue with your monitor or with something else. Except for the ones with very small values, all the colors seem to be well separated. The color codes are presented in descending order, so even if you are having trouble with the colors, you should be able to understand the message. With so many categories, it is always going to be difficult to present the data in a clear fashion, but I feel the charts do a good job of presenting the information.

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  • Sophia Thomasset

    Good stats. I am personally interested in getting an understanding of ipad take of vs Android as well as consumer ipad app consumption habits in china. anyone knows where i should look to get such info? 
    tx

    • http://truvoipbuzz.com Alok Saboo

      You may be able to look at the Chinese app store and get some relevant information.

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