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All the important and surprising trends in mobile web browsing, in seven charts

By Christopher Mims
ChinaPublished Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

Adobe just issued its semi-regular State of Mobile Benchmark, part of its Digital Index. It’s a collection of charts showing how dynamic the market for mobile computing continues to be. This past quarter saw explosive growth in some categories, for instance, rates at which people are using mobile devices to access social networks and adoption of smart phones in Asia. There were more than a few surprises: thanks to the iPad, Apple’s iOS mobile operating system is now the leading way to access the web from a mobile device in the US.

Tablets are now driving more web traffic than smartphones


Tablets are very much direct replacements for PCs, rather than “mobile” devices in the sense that a smartphone is, suggests Adobe’s data. For example, when people browse the web via a tablet, they visit 70% more web pages per visit than when they use a smartphone. As a result, while there are many more smartphones than tablets in the world, tablets are now driving more traffic to websites than phones are.

People browsing stores on tablets are 3x as likely to buy something

Looking at the conversion rates (i.e., the rate at which someone browsing an online store makes a purchase) we see yet more evidence that tablets are direct replacements for PCs. Smartphone browsers convert just 0.7% of the time, while people on tablets convert 2.2% of the time and PCs 3.3% of the time. This suggests that people are moving to tablets (or PCs) to complete their transactions in a place where they have more screen real estate (and a better keyboard).

Apple’s mobile operating system is leading in the US, thanks to iPads


Android may be the dominant mobile operating system by sheer number of units shipped, but people with iPads (and iPhones) are simply using them more—a lot more.

Tablet adoption in Asia is lagging

People in the UK  love their tablets: Tablets drive 65% more traffic to websites than smartphones in the country. In China, those proportions are reversed: Smartphones drive 90% more traffic to the web than tablets do. The opportunity here is clear: China, along with other emerging markets, is already seeing an explosion of ever-cheaper mobile devices (prices on tablets are actually falling faster than smartphones) and increasingly, countries in these regions will see tablet adoption rates that are more like those in the rich countries of the west.

Worldwide, iPads are dominating web traffic from tablets

No matter where you go, expensive iPads are the tablet of choice when browsing the web. For tablets to become a significant share of (overall) mobile web traffic in China and other emerging markets, that has to—and almost certainly will—change. Here again, cheap Android tablets will be transformative.

…But Android has taken over smartphones in Asia and emerging markets

It’s not just China where Google’s Android mobile OS has created an imposing lead over Apple, as measured by web traffic. The same is true in Japan. Owing to Android’s open nature, it’s easier for phone manufacturers to re-tool it to support native languages and tastes. Of course, that means Google has no control and makes no money off of a whole lot of Android phones.

Social network access via mobile has increased 600% in the past year

In March 2012, social networks were hardly being accessed from smartphones and tablets, with those devices accounting for just 4.8% of traffic to sites like Facebook. As of March of this year nearly one in three visits to those sites came from a mobile device.

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