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A marketer's guide to engaging the tablet user

A marketer's guide to engaging the tablet user Doug Heise
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We are in the midst of a tablet revolution, with both consumers and enterprises embracing tablet computers for everything from internet browsing and social networking to mission critical business applications that increase employee productivity and drive revenue. Forrester Research predicts that, beginning in 2012, tablet sales will start to outpace notebooks. This widespread adoption can be unequivocally credited to Apple's introduction of the iPad in 2010, but the upcoming launch of Amazon's tablet Kindle Fire is set to expand the market even further, attracting more users with its lower price point. 


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It's clear that marketers today cannot ignore the tablet as a channel. However, tablets have added another layer of complexity onto the diverse mobile internet arena, which is already crowded with a rich variety of web-enabled mobile devices from various manufacturers running different operating systems. With new versions of smartphones and tablets being brought to market every day to capitalize on this global trend, the mobile device landscape is becoming even more complex and confusing for brands and consumers alike.


This article will help marketers better understand what makes a tablet different from other mobile devices and PCs, as well as how to leverage the tablet as a critical piece of their mobile web content development strategy. Readers will also learn best practices for building an optimized, engaging web presence on tablet PCs.


A unique niche


So where does the tablet fit in? Somewhere between a smartphone and a PC -- clearly in its own unique niche, but one that is still very new to consumers and businesses alike. Tablets are almost as portable as smartphones, yet they have much larger screens and can provide more immersive experiences. However, they lack a mouse and external keyboard and typically have tinier screens than even the smallest laptop. From a user experience perspective, a website that sings on a small smartphone screen will be too simple for a tablet, but a website designed for a larger 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 their fingers. 


Hone in on user behavior


Web content strategy for a tablet goes well beyond aligning with device form factor, however; another key factor to take into account is consumer behavior -- what type of content people consume on tablets, how they interact with it and where. From there, you need to adjust your experience to meet the user's expectations for the channel. Based on the device's size, portability and functionality, people tend not to use the tablet for serious work, but they expect significantly more from it than their smartphone. Several recent studies have examined consumer tablet usage trends, and all have cited email, social networking, games, search, news consumption and shopping as top usages. A Pew internet study puts email and news at the top of that list.


People are also giving tablets a lot of their time. According to a recent Google survey, 43 percent of respondents spend more time with their tablet than with their desktop or laptop. Because people use tablets to access leisure-based content such as movies and books, they tend to spend a longer time on them than smartphones, with most survey respondents using tablets for at least an hour or two per day. Furthermore, while it's an app world for the smartphone, the browser gets substantially more face time on the tablet.

Build a better tablet experience


So how can marketers leverage the increasingly prevalent tablet to better engage their customers? Here are top considerations and tips for building an optimized, engaging tablet web experience:


Start with a strategy and concept: A tablet is a unique and widely used device that warrants a specialized approach. Put sufficient resources into developing a strong tablet design concept and strategy before you start to develop. Ultimately, this will make the life of your developers easier, reduce overhead and deliver a well thought out presence. 


Structure for tablet-user behavior: Think about when and where a user surfs on a tablet and adjust the content according to what a user needs in such a situation, e.g. a store finder list? Yes. The store's company history? Not likely. On a tablet, the content has to be easily accessible, and easy to navigate via touch, but given the smaller interface, it must also be purposefully selected.


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


Make it look like an app: Web pages on mobile devices will always have to share attention with the many native apps 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 features that are uniquely their own, includig multiple cameras, touch screen interfaces, accelerometers, and GPS. Keeping things simple doesn't mean you can't take advantage of these features to differentiate your brand. New technologies such as HTML5 are making 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. Today's mobile trend may very well be history by next year (or next month). 


Adapt to both the device and the OS: The iPhone 3G and the iPhone 4S are two very different devices with unique capabilities. Unfortunately, you're not automatically covered by saying "my content will be optimized for the iPhone." There are also different versions of the same operating system to take into account.


The winning formula


Facing a sea of mobile device types and sizes, designers 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. This is neither a time nor cost efficient approach, as it requires the development of an application designed specifically for each mobile hardware platform or operating system. In a market where new devices and OS versions are introduced at an increasingly fast clip, new applications and updates will continually be requred. In contrast, a web app approach can deliver the best of both worlds, allowing brands to deliver highly interactive mobile applications that are optimized from both a usability and functionality perspective for tablet users, but that can 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 touchpoint. This approach significantly preserves development and maintenance resources that native apps require.


Clearly, there is no one size fits all solution to mobile computing. While the introduction and broad adoption of new devices like the tablet undoubtedly provides marketers with more opportunities to connect with their users in a meaningful way, throwing a unique device into the mix also makes their jobs more complex. Marketers who create an adaptable, user-led strategy will position themselves to 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 for CoreMedia.


Sascha Langfus is VP of sales for Sevenal.


On Twitter? Follow iMedia Connection at @iMediaTweet.


Homepage image source can be found here.

Build a better tablet experience


So how can marketers leverage the increasingly prevalent tablet to better engage their customers? Here are top considerations and tips for building an optimized, engaging tablet web experience:


Start with a strategy and concept: A tablet is a unique and widely used device that warrants a specialized approach. Put sufficient resources into developing a strong tablet design concept and strategy before you start to develop. Ultimately, this will make the life of your developers easier, reduce overhead and deliver a well thought out presence. 


Structure for tablet-user behavior: Think about when and where a user surfs on a tablet and adjust the content according to what a user needs in such a situation, e.g. a store finder list? Yes. The store's company history? Not likely. On a tablet, the content has to be easily accessible, and easy to navigate via touch, but given the smaller interface, it must also be purposefully selected.


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


Make it look like an app: Web pages on mobile devices will always have to share attention with the many native apps 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 features that are uniquely their own, includig multiple cameras, touch screen interfaces, accelerometers, and GPS. Keeping things simple doesn't mean you can't take advantage of these features to differentiate your brand. New technologies such as HTML5 are making 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. Today's mobile trend may very well be history by next year (or next month). 


Adapt to both the device and the OS: The iPhone 3G and the iPhone 4S are two very different devices with unique capabilities. Unfortunately, you're not automatically covered by saying "my content will be optimized for the iPhone." There are also different versions of the same operating system to take into account.


The winning formula


Facing a sea of mobile device types and sizes, designers 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. This is neither a time nor cost efficient approach, as it requires the development of an application designed specifically for each mobile hardware platform or operating system. In a market where new devices and OS versions are introduced at an increasingly fast clip, new applications and updates will continually be requred. In contrast, a web app approach can deliver the best of both worlds, allowing brands to deliver highly interactive mobile applications that are optimized from both a usability and functionality perspective for tablet users, but that can 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 touchpoint. This approach significantly preserves development and maintenance resources that native apps require.


Clearly, there is no one size fits all solution to mobile computing. While the introduction and broad adoption of new devices like the tablet undoubtedly provides marketers with more opportunities to connect with their users in a meaningful way, throwing a unique device into the mix also makes their jobs more complex. Marketers who create an adaptable, user-led strategy will position themselves to 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 for CoreMedia.


Sascha Langfus is VP of sales for Sevenal.


On Twitter? Follow iMedia Connection at @iMediaTweet.


Homepage image source can be found here.

Doug has over 15 years of experience as a digital media strategist and marketing specialist. Doug began his career as a co-founder and Senior Analyst with The Content Group, a San Francisco-based consulting and professional services firm that was...

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