Fewer college students use tablets; may be a sign device doesn't boost productivity

Ball State researcher says students use tablets mostly for entertainment; many question whether the technology can be used for academic projects

How much real work can one get done on a tablet? Or are tablets mostly designed for entertainment?

The questions arise as a recent survey of college students showed a small decline in tablet ownership.

About 29% of college students said they owned a tablet in 2014, slightly less than did in 2012, according to a new study by Michael Hanley, a professor of advertising and director of Ball State University's Institute for Mobile Media Research.

Hanley said the decline comes as tablets are seen as primarily tools to entertain. They aren't seen as tools for heavy writing or college projects due to its lack of a physical keyboard and laptop and desktop type power, he added.

He has conducted surveys on the use of mobile devices by students since 2004.

"Tablets are for entertainment purposes, not for writing papers and doing class projects--key components of higher education," Hanley said in a statement.

He said students do plan to buy tablets after they graduate, but mainly to watch movies, play games and access social media sites. "After graduation and getting a job, you can afford to splurge on entertainment," Hanley explained.

Hanley's findings run contrary to marketing efforts by firms like Microsoft that tout the productivity gains tablets can bring to workers. Microsoft especially notes that its Surface tablets are equipped with detachable keyboards and Office applications. In March, Microsoft unveiled Office for iPad, providing all-touch Word, Excel and PowerPoint for Apple's App Store.

The most popular tablet for college students is an iPad, with 14.2% owning one, Hanley said. Samsung's Galaxy tablets are the next most popular, with 1.1% owning them. Other brands are owned by 13.6% of college students.

The survey found that 8.2% of respondents plan to buy a tablet in 2014.

Matt Hamblen covers mobile and wireless, smartphones and other handhelds, and wireless networking for Computerworld. Follow Matt on Twitter at @matthamblen or subscribe to Matt's RSS feed. His email address is mhamblen@computerworld.com.

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