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Impact of Tablets on Web Design

I think it’s safe to say that tablet computers have proven themselves to be more than a fad.

Sales continue to rise and we are now seeing an influx of budget and mid-range tablets entering the marketplace.

Written By
Andrew McSweeney

Android is powering the majority of these new devices which are using Froyo / Gingerbread or the tablet optimised Honeycomb. A quick search on Ebuyer.com shows us that we have moved on from tablets all being around the £500 mark.

For £169.97 you can now get a Hannspree tablet with Tegra II 1Ghz dual core processor, 512MB RAM and the standard 16GB memory. Even though this little beast runs Froyo (2.2) instead of the more tablet friendly Honeycomb it’s not going to bother a lot of people who like the idea of getting all this tech for a really good price. Sure it’s not going to set your world on fire when compared to the iPad2 or Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 but it’s still going to appeal to the more price conscious consumer.

August sees the launch of the much awaited Samsung Galaxy Tab 8.1 and 10.1 devices. The 10.1 has seen gained a good coverage in tech blogs in part due to it’s original design being changed to enable the device to better compete with the iPad2. It’s now thinner than it’s Apple brethren and is going to be a big draw for those who are not the greatest Apple fan.

Then this brings us onto the iPad2 itself. By June 2010 sales of the original iPad had reached 2 million  and the iPad2 is rumored to have sold 2.5 million by April 2011. Research firm Gartner expects tablet computer sales to reach 55 million this year rising to over 208 million in 2014.

According to research by YouGov 76% bought a tablet in addition to a computer. Claims that PC sales will be eclipsed by tablet sales within several years, such as the claim by Tim Cook, seem completely plausible  and this is why businesses, and the web development industry, need to stand up and listen to the huge changes we may very well see in the years ahead.

The web is now truly mobile. Smartphone sales are booming and so are tablet computers. The new challenge for web designers is to create designs that work across a wide array of platforms ensuring that the end user’s experience on a tablet is just as good as the experience on a PC or Mac.

The new challenge for a business is to ensure that they invest the time and money in ensuring that they are accessible across all platforms to people who might be searching for them on the web. More and more searches and page visits are coming from visitors using tablet devices. Sites which do not work or have poor design for tablet viewing are likely to turn people away or give your company a non-tech friendly image.

We’ve been talking a lot about responsive design in the office over the last week. In a nutshell it essentially means designing sites that are responsive to the increasing range of different devices and browsers. The reason design is so important falls down to user experience and speed. Research shows that visitors expect websites to load in less than 2 seconds and will generally walk away from websites taking longer than 3 seconds to load. The faster your website, the higher the conversion rate. In other words the quicker you can get pages to load the more people will buy from your site. Sure, it is a given that your website needs a good design first but the argument here is that it’s a two pronged approach; responsive design and optimised for speed. I suppose the question now remains what can we avoid to enhance the tablet website experience?

When designing websites that are compatible across different platforms we have to remember that not all tablets can handle flash. Additionally even those tablets that can handle flash lag when compared to their desktop counterparts. Flash is therefore a good thing to avoid in a cross-platform compatible website. Besides in my view flash websites are so 1990’s!

Roll-down menus can also be problematic – I’ve experienced it myself. You don’t have a mouse and a touch on the screen is essentially a left click of a mouse. Holding down on a section of the screen brings up a system sub-menu on Android devices so for my sanity try and avoid these devilish fiends. The designs that are going to work best are those that are simple and have a clear navigation. Have you noticed Google recently? Their design has changed to the new Google+ style. Clean, simple and very nice and easy to use on a tablet PC.

The super information highway that is the internet is now home to hundreds of millions of websites (over 300 million). Tablet computers are already the second internet device for many households. It’s my view that these devices will also quickly become the only internet device for many households, especially those who need a device for the internet and are not that interested in word processing.

The increasing popularity of G+ is just as much about providing an integrated internet experience combining office (docs), calendar, images and contacts as the social network element itself, if not more so. This also extends to the increasing popularity and ease of working from “the cloud” and an integrated solution which just so happens to fit like a glove for tablets, looks likely to be the future of computing. This amazingly cool slideshow gives an interesting look at G+ not really being about “social”. Take a look – it really is brilliant.

So let’s draw this rather geeky, but hopefully interesting, ramble to a close. Tablets are cool. Tablets are popular. They are only going to get more popular but hardware is not the main draw of tablets for consumers. Sure, for tech geeks like me there will be some degree of drooling over the prospect of quad core processors supported by copious amounts of RAM but that’s all really just a precursor.

Tablets are all about the user experience and the ease of having a device which you can do anything with, whilst on the move or just sitting on the sofa. It’s all about the eco-system and perhaps that’s why Apple iPads account for 89% of tablet traffic in all markets. That’s why Swanky’s John argues that Amazon will be the real competitor to the iPad2 when it launches in October. The amount of content Amazon has access to (remember they now own LoveFilm!) has the potential to win droves of consumers to their new device.

So what for business? To put it quite simply it’s the future and it’s happening now. Businesses that are not tablet ready will suffer because quite frankly it is a very poor show. Now that the internet is truly mobile we expect to have information at our fingertips. We also expect to get the information fast, to be able to purchase things quickly, and then be able to go on with our everyday lives. Keep designs simple, make information succinct and accessible and utilise this new resource whether that be providing real-time service data or creating websites and apps that keep clients in the loop no matter where they go.

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