Developing for Tablets

By Robert Whitehead
Developing for Tablets

Tablets offer a great opportunity for mobile developers to create compelling, engaging apps, and to monetize their work. Though, in order to fully take advantage of the tablet boom, developers need to understand the devices and how people use them – which is quite different from how they use phones. Tablets aren’t just a bigger screen, they’re a different experience.

Tablet sales booming

Tablet sales are really taking off. In the third quarter of this year, nearly 28 million were sold, which is 50% higher than last year. iPads represent about half of those, with the remainder being Android tablets. Research from the Online Publishers Association says there are now about 75 million tablet users in the US, triple the number from 2011.

But the good news for developers isn’t just the size of the market, it’s that tablet users are also more willing to pay for content. AppAnnie, an app store research firm, says that iPad apps generate 2.4x the revenue of iPhone apps on average. This is also true on Android, where owners of tablets display similar app purchasing behavior as iPad users – which is great news for Android developers struggling to make money on handsets.

Not just big screens

It’s important to understand how the sizes and capabilities of tablets affect usage. Their size makes them more “portable” than mobile. This means that users aren’t likely to use them while in motion, as they are phones. Tablet usage tends to be more nomadic, where a user will go to a place, sit down, and then use their tablet.

What may be more surprising is that the most popular place for people to use their tablet is at home. Research has shown that tablets are used at home 67% of the time, and Google research reported that the most common places for tablet Usage were:

  • Couch
  • Bed
  • Home
  • Table
  • Kitchen

This has an effect on the activities people do on their tablets. The OPA survey found a lot of interest in watching videos and accessing news and information content, including newspapers and magazines. There is a clear trend of content consumption, and not as much content creation as you see on mobile phones. Furthermore, tablets are dislodging laptops and PCs. Three quarters of tablet owners say their laptop usage decreased after they got a tablet, and nearly 30% say that a tablet is now their primary computer.

Given these characteristics, there are three key questions to keep in mind when creating your tablet app:

  • Where will people use the app on a tablet? Home, work, cafes, public transit, elsewhere?
  • What’s the period of time they’ll use it for? Mobile phone apps are often geared towards quick, bite-size experiences, but tablet users may be prepared (or expect) longer sessions.
  • What are the types of activities they will (and won’t) want to do on a tablet?

Creating your tablet apps

The screen size is the most obvious difference between tablets and phones, which means your apps should be optimized for these larger screens. Keep in mind optimizing doesn’t simply mean “make it bigger”. You need to consider spacing, size and legibility of your UI elements (for instance, making buttons a more suitable size), and how you will use the extra screen size to your advantage.

Developers should also consider the features of the tablet vs. a phone. The biggest example here is a telephone – most tablets don’t have them. And while most tablets do have GPS, it’s pretty unrealistic to think that a user would like to take a tablet along on a jog to track how far they run.

Lastly, when you’re publishing a tablet version of your phone app, try to use a single file in app stores. Having multiple files will split your ratings and complicate searching. Also, be sure to include the tablet version of your app in your screenshots, descriptions and marketing materials. Give your tablet app the attention it deserves when developing and promoting and it will demand that same attention from consumers.

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