Playground 2.0: Young children don’t want smartphones – they want tablets

by Doug Drinkwater

October 17 2013

A flurry of reports confirm what has long been suspected – children love tablets and an increasing number now have their own.

In the three years that have followed since the iPad’s introduction, tablets have often been handed to children to keep them quiet with games, movies or educational apps. During those early years, market research firm Nielsen even dubbed the tablet as a 'digital pacifier'.

Nonetheless, many parents will testify that most children have embraced tablets, even if there has been the occasional scare -- there have been reports of kids racking up thousand dollar bills on in-app purchases and even a story in the U.K of one four-year old becoming “addicted” to her parents’ iPad.

Kids prefer tablets to smartphones

Indeed, the latest market research data appears to show that tablet use -- and even ownership -- starts when children are not long out of diapers.

OnePoll recently surveyed 1,000 parents with young children and found that 4% of toddlers had their own tablets, with this doubling to 8% at the age of 3. The same parents claimed that their children spent one hour a day on their tablets and detailed how they were mostly used for playing educational games or watching YouTube videos.

The same study indicated that kids grew more attached to their iPads and Android tablet as they got older, which seems to be backed up by recent findings from UK regulator Ofcom.

(Worth reading: Childcare experts warn parents: Control your kid's tablet usageHow kids with tablets will impact business in the next 10 years & 5 iPad apps for play and learning).

In its 'Children and Parents: Media Use and Attitudes' report, the group discovered that the number of children aged 5-15 owning a mobile phone fell from 49% to 43% in a year, a figure attributed to less desire for feature phones and increasing demand for tablet computers.

Ofcom said that tablet use tripled from 2012 to 2013 in the same age group (14% to 42%). Even infants aged 3 to 4 were in on the trend – one in four (28%) now use a tablet computer at home.

Gamification -- key to future education deployments?

All this data suggest tablets and education are a good mix (although not without difficulties if LA’s $1 billion project is anything to go by), but it is the finding of another which hints that games could have a role in how children use tablets going forward.

Going back to September, mobile analytics firm Mixpanel stated that most children prefer gaming on tablets (77%) rather than smartphones (10%) -- which incidentally is the opposite for adults. Perhaps it's little wonder than that schools are tweaking their curriculum and that companies like Amplify are trying to enforce change via gamification.

(Stay on top of the latest education and mobile trends by subscribing to the free TabTimes for Education newsletter)

Doug Drinkwater is the International Editor of TabTimes and is based in London, England.
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