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Best-practice tips for building an engaging Web presence on tablets

By Doug Heise and Sascha Langfus

Forrester Research predicts that tablet sales this year will start to outpace notebooks. While it is clear that marketers cannot ignore the tablet as a channel, the mobile device landscape has become increasingly complex and confusing for brands and consumers alike.

How do you incorporate the tablet as part of your mobile content development strategy?

Below are some best practices for building an optimized, engaging Web presence on the tablet.

Unique niche
The tablet fits in somewhere between a smartphone and a PC – almost as portable as smartphones, yet offering larger screens and far more immersive experiences.

However, tablets lack a mouse and external keyboard and typically have tinier screens than even the smallest laptop.

A Web site that sings on a smartphone screen will be too simple for a tablet, but a Web site designed for a PC screen and a mouse-driven pointer will likely be too detailed for the tablet user, who will have trouble “clicking” on small links with her fingers.

Hone in on user behavior
A crucial factor to consider when designing the tablet experience is user intention: what type of content people consume on tablets, how they interact with it and where.

Due to the device’s size, portability and functionality, people tend not to use the tablet for serious work.

Recent studies, such as this one from Pew Internet, cite email, social networking, games, search, news consumption and shopping as top uses for the tablet.

A Google survey found that 43 percent of respondents spend more time with their tablet than with their desktop or laptop and use them to access mainly leisure-based content.

While it is an app world for the smartphone, the browser gets substantially more face time on the tablet.

Building a better experience
Here are tips for building an optimized, engaging tablet Web experience:

• Start with a strategy and concept: Put sufficient resources into developing a strong tablet design concept and strategy before you start to develop. This will make the life of your developers easier, reduce overhead and deliver a well thought out presence.

• Structure for tablet-user behavior: Adjust the content according to what a tablet user may need while surfing the Web, e.g. a store finder list? Yes. The store’s company history? Not likely. On a tablet, the content must be easily accessible, easy to read and access via touch, and purposefully selected.

• Keep it simple and quick: Sites with 2-3MB that take a long time to load should not be delivered onto tablets or smartphones. Try to avoid busy layouts that require users to constantly zoom in to read content, and consider that the technical limitation of the device itself is 6.5 MB per site.

• Make it look like an app: Web pages on mobile devices will always have to share attention with the many native applications on the device. Even though tablet users are more likely to use the browser, a more app-like approach will likely retain their attention longer.

• Take advantage of unique device capabilities: Although tablets may lack a mouse and keyboard, they have other unique features such as multiple cameras, touch screen interfaces and GPS which can really enhance the user experience. HTML5 technology now makes it easier to access these features from a browser.

• Separate hype from reality: The market develops quickly and is not always predictable. Choose a scalable and adjustable solution that will adapt to future device platforms.

• Adapt to both the device and the operating system: The iPhone 3G and the iPhone 4S are two very different devices with unique capabilities. Unfortunately, you are not automatically covered by saying “my content will be optimized for the iPhone,” so be sure to take operating system versions into account.

Winning formula
Facing a sea of mobile device types and sizes, brands will be fighting a losing battle if they continue to take a “plugging the dam” or native approach, making a separate application for every platform and operating system.

A Web app approach delivers the best of both worlds, allowing brands to create highly interactive mobile apps for the tablet that are optimized from a usability and functionality perspective, but that can also be deployed to a wide range of platforms and devices.

Using Web apps based on a dynamically configurable technology platform will allow you to adapt the Web presence for each device type without creating an entirely unique application for each one – or losing the characteristics unique to each touch point.

This approach significantly preserves development and maintenance resources that native apps require.

CLEARLY, THERE IS no one-size-fits-all solution to mobile computing.

Marketers who create an adaptable, user-led strategy can provide engaging tablet experiences to their customers today while preparing themselves for the next big thing in a market that moves at lightening-speed.

Doug Heise is product marketing director at CoreMedia Corp., San Francisco. Reach him at [email protected]. Sascha Langfus is vice president of sales at Sevenval GmbH, Köln, Germany. Reach him at [email protected].