“gadget petting zoo” by flickr user Jenica26, cc license

For college students, smartphones and laptops have begun to take on the roles companies had envisioned for tablets, according to a recent study by Ball State University’s Institute for Mobile Media Research. The survey of 1,800 college students over the past five years shows that college students have increased their cell phone consumption of entertainment, use of social media and online shopping. (The survey will be available later this year, but a preview of key points is available here).

The problem for tablets (or for parents considering purchasing a tablet for their college student) is that those last three categories of use are those uses for which most college students would consider purchasing a tablet. In some ways, the tablet’s envisioned role has been usurped by the cheaper smartphone and more versatile laptop.

College student’s ambivalence toward tablet usefulness is established in two further data points in the survey. Tablet ownership among college students fell two percent between 2013-2014. While not a large drop, this does suggest the flattening of interest (or, at least, fervent interest) in tablet ownership. Furthermore, only 8% of students plan to purchase a tablet in the next year. The survey’s main author, Dr. Michael Hanley of Ball State University, suggests that this confirms fairly weak interest in tablets.

So, as the back to college season arrives (and graduation gift season, as well), remember that smartphones and laptops remain more useful to college students than many other gadgets on the market.

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