Mobile Apps: Does One Size Fit All?

Tablet vs smartphone

There has been much discussion recently around the whole idea of apps and whether people should be creating apps specific to smartphones and tablets or whether one app should fit all. Android boss Andy Rubin has added his two cents insisting “I don’t think there should be apps specific to a tablet,” he said. He also added that “if someone makes an app it’s going to run on phones and it’s going to run on tablets.”

Now, that doesn’t mean he doesn’t think there shouldn’t be apps optimised for larger screens, it just means that he believes a single app should simply scale to different screen sizes. I think the notion that one app should fit all is nonsense, and if I am honest, I think that that way madness lies.

Those who choose to design one app and stretch it to every size, be it tablet or phone, will see their app initially slow to be adopted and ultimately fail. To my mind there is one overriding rule that must be adhered to in order to successfully design applications for Smartphones and tablets…

Context is King

In other words how each technology fits within the workplace, how employees will use different devices to fulfill their requirements. On one side, there are laptops, which are primarily designed for ‘heavy duty’ computing tasks in the office environment, thanks to their processing power and the large screen sizes which provide the flexibility for users to move quickly between different screens.

On the other we have smartphones which are most commonly used for shorter tasks, to quickly check for emails whilst running between meetings. Smartphone users, by nature, tend to have a shorter attention span than users of desktop applications and users tend to require access when they are in a hurry and when time is of the essence.

Tablets sit somewhere in the middle; whilst they offer more scope for data input and processing thanks to their larger screen size, their form factor means that they are also portable and so can easily be used in meetings. This means that in each situation, the data being looked at, the length of time they are used, and the levels of interaction by the user, are completely different. These key factors all need to be taken into consideration when one is designing applications aimed at Smartphones or Tablets.

If we practically think about when and how you are going to use the device, designing applications which takes that context into account is imperative. For instance I might book a meeting via my smartphone, I would then create the PowerPoint for that meeting on my laptop and then I would use my tablet to present it.

Ultimately Tablets are great for meetings for sharing information for showing things that three years ago we would have printed out or shown in a catalogue, while Smartphones are more based around a more personal experience of query response. With Smartphones you tend to want to press something and get the information there and then, it is very much part of a process with one or two steps anymore that that and the smartphone becomes an issue and actually hinders the user from responding quickly.

This is partly to do with the attention span each device demands but also to do with how they are physically held, smartphones are used with one hand whereas tablets everyone uses with two hands. This in turn affects the way any application can be used and should be designed so developers need to design the functionality of the application around that, with a tablet the user is two handed whereas with the phone everything needs to be done with one hand and even one finger this is a huge and fundamental difference.

One also needs to consider, what experience is a user expecting on that particular device? Often, this means that taking an application from a Smartphone and running it on a tablet is a mistake, due to relevance of data, different screen sizes and user expectations.

Developers need to think not only about how to engineer processes to present data from different sources in the most logical way, but also how to use the inherent features of each device. For example, where there is no mouse or keyboard, mobile devices can offer GPS, compass, gyroscope, camera and voice capabilities which have unlocked a set of capabilities in applications that provide new value.

I don’t believe you can design one application which will run in exactly the same way on a smartphone and on tablet, enterprises and developers need to take a holistic multi channel view of what they are trying to achieve, don’t design a solution only for a tablet or only for smartphone rather try and think how do we create the same experience in terms of look and feel, but design the input around the peculiarities of the form factor.

Designing each application constantly thinking about what can I do with one hand on my smartphone and what can I do with two hands on my tablet and what kind of processes would I want to do on each. Only when enterprises embrace the difference between the form factors, understanding that each has its own use and place can they begin to build a truly effective enterprise mobility strategy with ensured success.

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David Akka is Managing Director at Magic Software Enterprises UK. David is a successful executive manager with a proven track record as a general manager with a strong background in sales, marketing, business development and operations. Past experience in technology and service delivery include both UK and European responsibilities.