How Tablets Change Our Reading Habits

For being so new, tablets sure have made an impact. Since the first iPad launched in 2010, a host of worthy competitors have cropped up, tablet adoption has exploded and the devices have begun to change the way we do things around the house and, for many, at the office.

Even before the iPad, one of the most widely-anticipated use cases for these devices was reading. Indeed, that’s one of the most popular activities among tablet owners, research shows. But it’s not just the form factor that’s different. Tablets, in concert with e-readers and smartphones, are actually changing how and when we read.

These devices are exploding. In the next year, U.S. tablet adoption is expected to approach 50 percent. That’s pretty impressive for a category of devices that didn’t even exist four years ago.

Reading Gets More Social & Customizable

Some of the ways in which reading is different are pretty apparent the first time you open an e-book. The fonts and text size are adjustable, as is the page’s background color. These might seem like minor details, but they actually have an impact on who can read and how much they can consume. For the visually impaired, the ability to adjust text size is a huge deal, and obviously not something they could do with print books.

Reading is also, quite naturally, more social. Even if you don’t use features like Twitter passage-sharing in the iBooks or Kindle app, the reading experience itself is more social (even though lending books isn’t easier than it was with print). Features like crowd-sourced highlighting let you see what passages other readers have found to be the most important. Book-reading apps aren’t tricked out with too many social features, which is probably a good thing. We do, after all, need to focus on the words.

Tablet Owners Read More Than Everybody Else

Those who use tablets and e-readers to consume books have a tendency to plough through more books. Of those who read e-books, 30 percent say they spend more time reading, according to an April 2012 study by the Pew Internet and American Life Project.

According to the same study, 91 percent of tablet and e-reader owners said they had read a book in the previous year. By contrast, only 78 percent of the general population had done so. Clearly, owning one of these devices makes people more likely to read long-form content.

This makes sense. Discovering and acquiring reading material is much easier on digital platforms, where purchasing a book is something you can do with a single click from the comfort of your couch.

Time-Shifting: Tablets Change When We Read

For most consumers, tablets are leisure devices used primarily in the home. About two-thirds of tablet use is at home, according to the Online Publishers Association (OPA). In a separate, very detailed study, Google found that 91 percent of usage was of a personal (rather than work-related) nature. People are using them for email, reading, communication and shopping more than they’re using them for work-related productivity.

Tablets are used predominantly on couches, in bed and at the kitchen or dining room table, according to Google’s study. Email, social networking and watching video are the dominant activities, but reading remains pretty high on the list, with 42 percent of tablet owners using them for reading books.

Evening is when tablet usage spikes. Most people pull out their iPads, Kindle Fires or other device of choice between the hours of 5 p.m. and 11 p.m., according to the OPA. It’s during this time that people are sitting on their couch, multitasking in front of the TV, browsing over dinner or reading in bed.

Much of that reading activity is actually being shifted from earlier in the day. Thanks to time-shifting apps like Instapaper, Readability and Pocket (formerly Read It Later), we can save long-form articles in a much more reader-friendly format than we tend to find them while we’re browsing the Web during the day.

Several months ago, the team at Pocket shared some data about their users’ reading habits, which confirmed much of what the rest of the research has been showing. Among tablet-bound users of Pocket, reading spiked between the hours of 8 and 11 p.m. For most of those people, this reading time largely displaced earlier reading that they used to do at their desks during the day.

It’s still very early in this game. As e-book adoption rises and devices like the iPad, Kindle Fire, Microsoft Surface and Google Nexus tablets proliferate, we should expect to see broader shifts in how people read.

Featured image provided by John Larsson

John Paul Titlow
John Paul Titlow covers trends in new media, digital music and tech culture. His work has appeared in Fast Company, ReadWrite, Billboard and The New York Times. He also teaches journalism at Temple University.
John Paul Titlow
Tags: Downtime,Gadgets & Devices,Tech Culture