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Designing websites for tablets

Published on July 13, 2012
Tags: Usability

We all know that tablets are fast becoming one of the most popular web devices around. Portable and generally equipped with the latest hardware and software, it is estimated that tablet owners spend more money online than people who buy online through other means (£97 in the past three months compared with an average of £79, according to a study by Total Media). This means that even though tablets remain in the minority for now, web designers cannot ignore them and we increasingly need to act to make sure websites – including ecommerce websites – are properly designed and optimised for tablet use.
Think about the user experience
As with any other type of web design, one of the big things when it comes to creating websites for use on tablets is the user experience. This means addressing obvious issues such as the fact that tablets are operated using fingers rather than mouse pointers, and so the navigation design needs to be adapted accordingly. It needs to be easy for people to use without looking clunky and out of place.
Other issues that need to be looked at in terms of user experience include menus that, when using a desktop computer, drop down when the mouse pointer is hovered over them. This is often not a possibility with tablets, and so menu alternatives need to be developed when designers are adapting sites for these devices.
The user experience can also be affected by the information that is displayed on the page. Most tablets allow for multiple screen orientations, so that if you turn the device from landscape to portrait, the site alters to display accordingly. This means that websites need to be carefully administered so that crucial information isn’t lost from the screen when the device is turned around; while users have the option of swiping across to see additional information, this isn’t always the most practical option.
Also, how are web users actually using their tablets? If we consider that they are typically spending more online than the average online shopper, it suggests that ecommerce is clearly a big issue. We need to be certain when creating ecommerce sites for tablets that they will operate properly and that the buying process will be as easy as possible in order to make the most of this market.
We also have the issue of apps to consider. With the growing popularity of device-based apps, this is clearly an issue that web designers need to be aware of. For example, are people more likely to make a purchase through an app that is specific to their device, or will they still head to the ‘main’ website through their tablet browser in order to do this? If they are using the device apps, do you need as many web applications on the sites that you design?
Remember different tablet specifications
Just as we see computers and laptops with a range of different specifications, so we also tablets with significant differences between them. The web design for a tablet needs to be flexible enough to work on multiple screen sizes, as well as multiple resolutions. Graphics can be an issue here; with developments such as the iPad’s high-quality Retina screen, graphics need to display well on devices with high resolutions, without slowing down devices that have resolutions that aren’t quite as high.
Something else that web designers need to remember for tablets is that no matter how capable they are, they typically have less memory and less powerful CPUs than desktop computers. This means that we need to be careful when designing sites that include a lot of media as the devices that are supposed to be running it might not be able to properly support it.
Flash is another issue that we need to be careful about when designing websites to be used on tablets. Some tablets, such as the iPad, don’t support it, and so in most cases it is probably best to stick to CSS and HTML5. These are much more likely to achieve good results on tablets, and the capabilities of HTML5 mean that we are now able to achieve high-quality media that will run on all tablets, so there is less need to worry about Flash compatibility. 
Overall, it looks as though the tablet market will continue to grow in size and significance. So, even though for now it is still a relatively small section of the online market, it is definitely a powerful and important one. Making sure the websites we create are fully operational and ideal for tablet use should certainly be high on the lists of all designers.

By Chelsey Evans

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