Monday, 16 April 2012

Digital information on the move: the rise of the Tablet

By Simon Batchelor

Here in the UK the ‘new’ devices of smartphones, tablet pcs and ipads are very evident. Just take a train, and you will see at least half the people on it are staring at a screen.  While we may think they are working on their emails, some of them are just playing games or watching films – nevertheless digital information on the move is becoming even easier.

So is this change in device use becoming common in the countries where we work?

Our recent study (yet to be officially launched and published), suggests that for the policy environment these devices are changing access to information.  When asking 368 policy actors in six countries (Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Ghana, India, Kenya, Nepal) what devices they have access to we get the responses as shown in the figure below.

Emerging findings from Impact and Learning Team (IDS) research, full report will be available on

The figure illustrates that 90% of respondents have a computer desktop either at home or the office, 88% have a laptop for use in either the office or home.  However what becomes interesting is their growing use of Tablet computers.  Tablet use among policy makers in the South is at 12%. 

So how does this compare with the UK scene?  While we don’t have the UK figures (and if anyone has please add as a comment), the Pew internet survey for the USA (June 2011) suggests that use of Tablets across the USA has risen to 8% over the last 12 months.  This means average use among policy actors in the South is slightly higher at 12%.  Perhaps interestingly but unsurprisingly, desktop and laptop use among policy actors is considerably higher than the USA general public average which stands at 58% and 52% respectively.  

Indeed in September 2011, India's Economic Times carried a story announcing that the computer allowance for MPs had been raised from Rs 150,000 to Rs 200,000.  The extra Rs50,000 was specifically to obtain a tablet device such as an ipad or Samsung Galaxy powered by Android. “Owning a tablet is mandatory for all MPs, officials said.”  The article states that “over 125 members from the total 245 have already bought the tablets”.

And how about Smartphones?  The graph shows that 40% of respondents had smartphones. Of these 8% had iphones, 12% Blackberries and 31% were ‘other’ smartphones – where smartphone meant they got their email over the phone and could surf the internet.

What does this increased use of mobile technology mean for Knowledge Intermediaries?  

The information ecosystem is changing.  Policy actors do indeed have access to the latest technology, and the proportion of early adopters among the policy actor subset is approximately the same as the averages of the general public in the USA.  While much intermediary work is digital, the debate continues as to whether it is the best pathway for getting research in front of the key people.

Our forthcoming report explores the behaviour of policy actors, but in terms of potential digital access, the data confirms that, increasingly, policy actors have access to this medium, and we should not miss the opportunity to develop "apps" which engages with these early adopters. A real-time example of the potential in this is the IDS Knowledge Services Open API. It allows developers to create apps for Android-driven Tablets and smartphones which could tap into the BRIDGE and Eldis research databases containing over 32, 000 summaries and documents.