The Great Tablet Debate

While expert reviews and sales figures give indication of which tablet devices are the most critically and commercially successful, they don’t reveal as much about how consumers feel about the products. To discover which tablets evoke the most pre-purchase curiosity and post-purchase satisfaction in the general public, we’ve sampled and analyzed the browsing behavior and social sentiments of millions of people around the Web. This is the Great Tablet Debate.

The Rise of the Tablets

There was definitely some scoffing in 2010 as Steve Jobs proudly stood onstage to display the next big thing: the Apple iPad. “An oversized iPhone,” some labeled it. “This won’t catch on.” Now it’s July 2013 and tablet sales are expected to surpass sales of desktop PCs. There’s no doubt about it: tablets are on a meteoric, seemingly unstoppable rise. Sales swelled 142.4% over the last year and are expected to increase 58.7% in 2013. Characteristic of blooming new markets, the variety of different tablets have continued to multiply. There are now more than a hundred different types of tablets available, ranging from 5″ phone/tablet hybrids (phablets) to 27″ furniture tablets. Not to mention the diversification of the operating systems in use: Android, iOS, Windows, Blackberry, and forked Android, to name a few. So, when it comes to seeing how consumers feel about different tablets, where do you start? First, we decided it was necessary to narrow down the hundred or so tablets to manageable categories. Given that our aim was to sample the views of millions of tablet users, we looked to Twitter to help us group the tablets together.

Selecting Devices

We searched for English language tweets that contained the word “tablet” (and they weren’t about people with headaches telling the world they’d just taken an aspirin). Then we scraped 20,000 of those tweets and compiled them into a single corpus. On this, we ran a word frequency check to see which brands and models of tablets were currently the most mentioned on Twitter.

Initially we wondered if searching for “tablet” was unfair to iPads, which are rarely referred to as ‘tablets’ on Twitter. However, when we looked at the results, we saw right away that this wasn’t an issue. In fact, the rankings were an early glimpse into which tablets would go on to dominate online discussions.

So, 20,000 tweets containing the word “tablet” provided a list of eleven different tablets, belonging to eight different brands. These were ranked from most to least mentioned and the results were then compared to the total number of tweets made over the last 30 days containing each tablet name. Both rankings matched very closely: the iPad and Kindle Fire were most talked about on Twitter, while the Blackberry Playbook and Barnes & Noble Nook HD were least mentioned. Most importantly, we now had our short list of tablets, the subjects of the social sampling to come.

Before moving onto other metrics, here’s a bit of background information on our selected devices.

As you can see from the timeline above, the Playbook had been out the longest, perhaps explaining why it was the least mentioned on Twitter. Having said that, the iPad 2 had also been out quite a while, but it topped the rankings for Twitter mentions. To learn more about peoples’ curiosities prior to purchasing tablets, we shifted our focus from Twitter to the most and least searched tablets on Google Images. We assumed people would be more likely to look up the appearance of a tablet first, before researching brands and models.

Measuring Curiosity

This graph may look complicated, but the takeaway is pretty simple; the iPad and iPad Mini have maintained their top spots, while the Playbook and Nook HD came almost dead last. The Nexus 7 showed good curiosity, coming a bit above the Kindle Fire, and the Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 and Note models seemed to pique the public’s interest to a large degree as well.

Previewing images of products on Google wasn’t the only way people feed their curiosity for tablets. In recent years the phenomenon of ‘unboxing’ videos has sprung up: people removing electronic devices from their packaging very methodically and with a running commentary.

We performed YouTube searches for each tablet (sorted by year and by relevance) and then pulled the view counts of each of the first 500 or so results. We did this for both unboxing videos and standard tablet reviews. The view counts of 6,000 YouTube videos allowed us to calculate the average number of views per tablet video, and thereby gained an insight into which ones interested consumers the most and least.

For the first time, the iPad and iPad Mini didn’t come first. The Nexus 7 and Nexus 10 had the most views on average per unboxing and review video. We suspected this was a case where the product release dates influenced the results; logical, since more people wanted to see a newish Nexus tablet unboxed, than an ubiquitous iPad. One thing remained the same, however, and that was the presence of the Nook HD and Playbook at the bottom end of the rankings.

We couldn’t resist a bit of extra research on the Blackberry Playbook: why had it so far been mentioned and previewed the least? The Playbook was first shown off in October of 2010, a mere six months after Apple’s iPad hit the shelves, but bizarrely (and potentially disastrously) wasn’t released until after the iPad 2 was out in April 2011. Other reported issues with the device, such as its lack of native email and calendar software and its poor app support, seem to have confined it to the history books. In fact, it seemed that Blackberry’s CEO, Thorsten Heins, wrote the Playbook’s entry in history when he poorly predicted that the tablet market would be dead within five years. Recently, he also made the announcement that the Playbook would not be receiving an update to the company’s latest mobile OS, Blackberry 10.

So, based on millions of Google Image searches and YouTube video views, we had a decent idea of which of the tablets inspired the most interest in people before purchase. But what about post-purchase?

Measuring Sentiment

By counting the number of results for Google searches containing the phrase ‘I love my [tablet name],’ an insight was gained into which tablets had the most public declarations of love made on blogs, forums and comment sections around the Net. The iPad, Kindle Fire, and iPad mini sat in first, second and third positions (no surprise there), while the Playbook clawed back a bit of its dignity by placing in the middle of the group. Despite its comparably small number of sales, the Playbook managed to acquire favorable reviews amongst its owners. And a good portion of those Playbook fans were from Canada. The tablet’s company, Research in Motion (RIM), which is also based in the country, released a survey in July 2012 that showed that despite its lackluster performance universally, it was doing pretty well in its native country, making up 20% of Canada’s tablet sales.

Microsoft’s Surface RT and Pro didn’t fare as well for this metric however, accounting for only 1.8% of the tablet market. A possible reason for the Surface’s lack of love in search results probably is Microsoft’s relatively small market share.

We returned to Twitter for an additional measure of tablet lovin’. This time, we compiled a collection of nearly 10,000 tweets for each tablet. For a tweet to qualify for our purposes, it had to contain the phrase “my [tablet name].” The addition of “my” cut down tweets made by corporate and/or competition accounts, as we wanted only the sentiments of real people using real tablets.

We decided to keep the Twitter sentiment analysis pretty simple. The perimeters included 10,000 tweets for each tablet, each containing the phrase “my [tablet name].” Next, a phrase count for each group was tallied to see which contained the highest number of definite positive statements. Several iterations of love was counted and totaled, including “I love my [tablet name],” “loving my [tablet name],” and “love it [tablet name].”

Many tweets did not include the tablet’s name, some tablets failed to collect sufficient information for analysis. But among those that met the criteria, the iPad Mini triumphed, with the Kindle Fire following behind in second. Surprisingly enough, the Playbook came in third.

Specific hashtags were also associated with different tablets. For the Kindle, #firstworldproblems was the most commonly used hashtag, whereas #fail appeared more than #love for the Playbook (albeit, only by a tiny fraction). The Surface, after performing poorly in searches for love on Google, also scored low for Twitter, coming in 6th.

The Nook, created by Barnes & Noble, loitered at the lower end of rankings. Most recently, B&N reported another quarter of disappointing results, with a 34% drop in Nook sales. Things have gotten so bad in fact, that America’s top bookstore announced that they would stop manufacturing their own tablets. By the end of the fiscal year (April 2013), B&N lost $475 million due to the failure of the Nook.?

Problems with Tablets

During our analysis, we learned about some of the most common issues consumers seemed to have with their tablets. Google’s autocomplete feature provided a novel way to find out what the issues were, as the more common a particular phrase was entered into Google, the more likely it was to be used as an autocomplete. For each tablet, we searched “my [tablet name]” once more and recorded Google’s top three autocompleted search suggestions.

The results spoke volumes about the main problems of electronic devices: they sometimes froze, wouldn’t turn on, or failed to charge.

In Conclusion

While sampling the social sentiment and search habits of consumers online isn’t an exact science, the results and analysis help map an existing landscape of tablet devices: the sad stories of the Playbook and Nook, the ongoing dominance of the iPad and iPad Mini, and up and coming promises of the Samsung Galaxy and Google Nexus 7 (and to a lesser extent, the Nexus 10).

Each tablet has its supporters and detractors, and our research helped illuminate which ones were the most searched for, talked about, and loved. The tablet debate will rage on as the market continues to flourish, and will likely only come to an end if Blackberry’s Heins’ prediction comes true.?