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New York Times Usage and Tablets' New E-Reading Paradigm

Poynter has a post looking at some Nielsen figures on New York Times use over the last few years, finding that time spent with the website from desktops and laptops has been decreasing since 2010, when the iPad first came out.

We asked for the figures to see if the paywall had affected how much time users spend on the site — discouraging drive-by traffic and encouraging more loyal, paying customers to visit. Instead, the figures appear to show how mobile devices are chipping away at the amount of time that users spend on their desktop and laptop computers, the Times says.

It’s funny to think the iPad has only been with us for about 2 and 1/4 years. How has it been changing our reading habits? Maybe not so much for e-books—the device is pretty heavy, and a lot of people still find e-ink easier on the eyes. But studies have shown people are reading a lot more shorter content, such as newspaper or magazine articles, on tablets. And if they’re reading more on tablets, it stands to reason they’re going to read them less on computer screens.

Was there ever a successful tablet before the iPad? I can’t seem to recall any. I think that the iPad, and the other tablet devices that followed, created an entirely new use case for digital reading. The hand-portable, keyboardless form factor, with its primarily portrait-mode orientation as opposed to laptops’ and netbooks’ landscape, made it a natural for reading stuff that broke down by pages, like magazines or newspapers. And the color screen meant that colorful magazines were more at home than they had been on e-ink readers.

I’m not immune. The biggest thing that I use my iPad for these days is going through several hundred articles per day in my Google Reader feed via the Reeder RSS program, starring any that look like they might have later blogging potential. Sometimes I’ll stop and read one, if it catches my interest and I have time.

I could do this on my desktop from home (as I used to do before I had the iPad), or from the computers in the breakroom at work that have web browsers, but the web interface just isn’t as useful for me. Likewise, I could do it from my iPod Touch (and sometimes do, if I’m in a circumstance where I don’t have access to my iPad), but the smaller screen means I can’t see as much as easily as on the iPad. The overall effect really is like flipping through a magazine or newspaper.

Likewise, I use the iPad a lot for Zite and Flipboard, which are just as magazine-like in their own right, though unlike Google Reader they don’t really have exact duplicates elsewhere.

The net effect of this is that people who have access to iPads (or, presumably, other tablets) are likely shifting desktop usage patterns over to their tablets where they fit better. And the net result of this is to show desktop and laptop usage patterns for things like the New York Times decreasing when they can be better done on tablets.

I wonder what sorts of things we’ll use tablets for when we get to the point where they can do everything a desktop OS can?

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