Aug 16, 2013 · 3 minutes

A few days ago, I wrote about how new figures from apps analytics firm Localytics showed that people were increasingly using mobile phones to "snack" on news content, but that tablet owners spend far more time reading on the larger device. I have since asked Localytics for more data on tablet usage and have found that, when it comes to news reading, similar dynamics play out on the larger devices, except at greater length.

That first batch of numbers from Localytics said only that the average reading session in a tablet news app is 50 percent higher than on a smartphone, according to data they had gathered from 100 million mobile devices and 500 apps over the course of a year. (Note: Localytics at first said, erroneously, that each tablet session was 50 times longer than a smartphone session, an eye-popping figure that turned out to be incorrect.)

That difference is significant and suggests that while smartphones are great for delivering quick news injections, tablets facilitate a more engaged reading experience.

The new data I've received from Localytics indicates the following:

  • The volume of tablet news app sessions per user per month has increased 26 percent year-over-year
  • However, the average length of each tablet news app session year-over-year has decreased by 16 percent
  • The average tablet news app session length year-over-year is just under 15 minutes
  • The average total time in tablet news apps per user has increased 14 percent year-over-year

So, in short, more people are turning to their tablets more often to read news, but they're doing so for a shorter amount of time each time. Even though the "snacking" behavior has increased, however, any time someone open a news app on their tablets, they're likely to spend close to 15 minutes in that app. In total, people are spending substantially more time in tablet news apps than they were at this time last year.

I can think of three reasons to explain the trend.

First, there are simply more apps competing for people's time, so users are perhaps more likely to switch frequently between apps.

Second, tablet ownership is diversifying as tablets become cheaper and more mainstream. There's a fair chance that early adopters were more inclined to read news than later-comers, and that what we're now seeing is a regression to the mean.

Third, more people might be ditching their paper subscriptions in favor of reading on their tablets.

Some more details:

  • In July 2012, the number of tablet news app sessions per user per month was 12. In July 2013, that number was 17.
  • In July 2012, the average session length in a tablet news app was 11 minutes. In July 2013, it was 10. That figure peaked at 17 minutes in February and March 2013.
  • In July 2012, the time in tablet news apps per user was 14 minutes. In July 2013, it was 16.3 minutes.

By comparison, people spend 4.2 minutes per day in smartphone news apps, according to Localytics. That data reinforces Flurry's findings, reported on today by PandoDaily's Nathaniel Mott, that iPads and iPhones are in fact very different.

I think this is encouraging news for news organizations. There's no doubt they'll want to increase the length of those news-reading sessions, but 16 minutes per day of face time with a consumer (when they open their news apps) is nothing to sneeze at. And in general, it looks like people are spending more "lean-back" time with tablet news, compared to the more hyperactive bursts of news consumption on their smartphones. However, that people are accessing news apps on only average only 17 times per month does suggest that reading on a tablet has for many not yet become a daily habit.

It's likely that digital news reading habits will change even more in the next 12 months. We are still in the midst of a big transition from newspapers to digital. Figures collected by Pew Research last year showed that Americans who read news regularly are more likely to have read a newspaper yesterday (about 74 percent) than they were to have read a newspaper on a handheld device (about 53 percent).

It can't be too long until those figures are flipped on their head.

Screen Shot 2013-08-16 at 10.00.34 AM

Photo by Brendan Lynch