If you still believe that tablets are merely a fad or just a way to engage more affluent early adopters in their 30s or 40s, you need to change your mind — now. 

According to our latest Technographics® data, European tablet ownership is highest among 18- to 24-year-old online users — 25% of them own one! 2012 saw a surge in the popularity of tablets among this age group. Why? As with any technology that’s reaching critical mass, the profile of its adopters evolves over time — and it will continue to do so. 

With double-digit growth in tablet uptake across Western Europe in 2012, about one in seven online Europeans now owns a tablet. And with further double-digit growth expected in the years ahead, tablets are changing the consumer technology landscape. According to the Forrester Research World Tablet Adoption Forecast, 2012 To 2017 (Global), 55% of European online consumers will own a tablet by the end of 2017.

Tablet owners are not precious about their devices: Of those that have a spouse/partner, 63% share their tablet with them; one-third of parents share their tablet with their children. This makes tablets a far more social device than smartphones, which are much more personal and intimate.

Tablets are social devices mostly used in the home: 62% of European tablet owners use them in the living room and 45% use them in the bedroom. Consumers who own both a smartphone and a tablet are more likely to use their smartphone when out and about and then power up their tablet when they get home. Consequently, companies that want to exploit tablet opportunities need to understand that they require a differentiated approach from smartphones. Tablets play a stronger role in the discovery and exploratory phase of the customer life cycle – with a greater use of video. It is more critical to design task-oriented experiences on smartphones so that consumers can accomplish simple tasks on the go.

In the near future, though, usage patterns will change and tablet usage will diversify significantly beyond mostly browsing in the living room. The adoption of tablets in the workplace, the diversification of form factors (in particular with 7-inch mini tablets), and the progressive emergence of 4G and cellular data bundles will be the driving forces behind this change. However, while we will see more and more commercial LTE rollouts for consumers in 2013, few tablets will have embedded 4G modems. For tablets to be used on the go frequently, operators would need to offer more affordable cellular data packages bundled with Wi-Fi usage.

Technographics clients who want to know more about this topic should download our new report, “The European Tablet Landscape” — which is available here and look at my colleague Reineke Reitsma's blog here.