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How the Second Screen Became the First

Out in public, around the dinner table, in the break room at lunch-time, and even on the couch… smartphones and tablets are everywhere. And the love affair has no end in sight. Quite the contrary, in fact. Tablet and smartphone usage has become so pervasive that this “second screen” has replaced the television as the most-viewed device in our lives. We as a collective spend hours a day on our phones and tablets. But why is this? That’s a thesis paper in and of itself, but here are some of the core reasons that likely explain our infatuation.

Portability and Convenience
Perhaps most simply, it’s important to note that smartphones fit in our pockets and tablets easily fit in a bag. Try that with your 80” UHD television. The fact that we can view media, games, the Internet, and social platforms all from our phone, any time of day, anywhere, is a significant factor in how often we use these devices. Depending on your age, you may remember those old portable black-and-white televisions with the collapsable antenna. All of these years later, smartphones and tablets finally bring the dream and promise of those devices to life (and in color!). They are portable, convenient, easy to use, even fun… they seem designed to meet our every need and whim.

Changes in Media Consumption
Just as cinema gave way to television, television is now giving way to the Internet, mobile gaming, social media, Instagram, Pinterest, YouTube, and a number of other distractions. People are consuming media in fundamentally different ways than ever before, and the viewing device of choice for this new media is the second screen – not a television. For so many of the things that we do on a daily basis, from checking our favorite Blogs to checking our friends’ status updates, an iPad is the ideal device. And with carriers like T-Mobile offering free data to tablet users, doing so costs little to nothing.

Ubiquity and Global Access
Smartphones and tablets are popular. It’s not possible to overstate this fact, as the numbers back it up. To answer the question of why tablets and smartphones are so ubiquitous, simply look at the two factors described above. Combine portability, convenience, and usability, and you’re left with a device that appeals to all people, all of the time. It’s little wonder that there are now more mobile devices on Earth than there are humans. With billions of devices worldwide, and that number growing everyday, it was never a matter of if smartphones and tablets would usurp televisions, but when.

Affordability
When color televisions were introduced in the early 1950s, they sold for $1,000. Adjusted for inflation, that equates to roughly $10,000 in 2015. Clearly, color televisions were out of reach of all but the most wealthy of Americans. And yet, by the mid-1960s, color televisions could be found in most American homes. Thankfully, smartphones and tablets were never priced so high, but there was still a bit of sticker shock when they first hit the market. When launched, the iPhone was $599. Expensive now, expensive in 2007. And yet, by Christmas time of that year, the price had already dropped to $399. Of course, with a two-year contract, many can now be had for free.

Technology Advancements
The iPad was not the first tablet to hit the market, but it was the first tablet to enjoy widespread adoption. And this was due in part to the quality of the product itself. Though by no means perfect (look at how many iterations have been launched since), it provided an enjoyable and unique user experience while offering all-new ways of consuming media and content. The technology to draw people away from desktop monitors and televisions had finally arrived. Ultimately, it could be argued that this is what opened the door for the second screen to become the first screen, as is now the case.

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