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Students Prefer Smartphones and Laptops to Tablets, Study Finds

When tablets appeared on the market, there were expectations that they would be laptop computers’ greatest competition. That has not turned out to be true at Ball State University, where students see tablets as a form of entertainment—as essentially a bigger and more expensive smartphone, according to a recent study.

The study, by Michael Hanley, a professor of advertising and director of Ball State’s Institute for Mobile Media Research, found that students’ use of smartphones for entertainment, such as watching videos, visiting social-media platforms, and shopping online, has increased in the last five years. Those are the same uses they would consider buying a tablet for. Because of tablets’ high prices, however, students prefer to stick to laptops and smartphones while in college, the study found. (Mr. Hanley plans to publish the results of the study later this year.)

“Tablets are for entertainment purposes, not for writing papers and doing class projects—key components of higher education,” Mr. Hanley said in a news release about the study. “After graduation and getting a job, you can afford to splurge on entertainment.”

About 1,800 students volunteered to participate in six online surveys from February 2009 to February of this year. In 2014, 89 percent reported owning a smartphone, while only 29 percent owned a tablet. That number had dropped from 31 percent in 2013. Mr. Hanley called that trend “a slight but directional decline.” It indicates that “tablet use by students has not increased as the industry hoped it would, but has, instead, stalled and even begun a small decline,” he said.

Buying a tablet was also not a high priority for most students, according to Mr. Hanley’s research. A little more than 8 percent said they planned to buy one in 2014. The most popular brand was Apple’s iPad, followed by the Samsung Galaxy.

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