Tablets Are Not Mobile Devices!

Tablet and SmartphoneThe biggest buzzword in town these days is, of course, “mobile”. Everyone is talking about it, everyone wants in on the game, and of course everyone predicts that it will be the next cash cow.

The problem is that just about everything smaller than a PC is now being tagged as a “mobile platform”, including (but not limited to) notebooks, netbooks, Tablets, smartphones, featurephones, etc. And that is where the problem lies.

Strictly speaking, neither notebooks nor netbooks are mobile devices. Apart from the fact that they don’t share the common characteristics that true mobile devices have (such as a full touch screen, no physical keyboard, long battery lives, instant on, etc.), they differ from true mobile devices in the way they are used – you have to sit down to use them, i.e. the device decides where and how it will be used, not you.

Mobile phones (both smart and feature) are used on the go, and never decide how and where they are used – that’s up to the user, not the device. And that more or less defines mobility.

But there is an issue here – what about tablets?

Device useStudies have shown that no matter what marketeers claim – tablets are used at home. Or in office. On the road as well, but very rarely. That is because the use-cases for tablets are completely different from those of smartphones or notebook. This was a point Steve Jobs made very clear during his 2010 keynote – to the point that he had a leather easychair on stage, which he settled into to demo the iPad.

So why is this important?

It is important because the tablet is not a mobile device – calling it one, and developing for a tablet assuming it to be a mobile device is a mistake, and you will probably miss the opportunities offered by such a “lean back device”.

When you develop an app for a tablet, do not use standard guidelines meant for mobile devices. The tablet is a completely different class of device, and requires applications to function in completely different ways.

And example will help illustrate this:

Almost every mobile app out there sports tabs at the bottom of the screen for navigation. But on a tablet, tabs are not only useless, they actually distract from the experience. On a tablet, most of the action happens either along the left or right edge of the device, or in the middle, but rarely, if ever, at the bottom of the screen. Try it yourself, and you will see what I mean.

This is but one example, there are many more. I would recommend that you study how people actually use tablets (and ignore anything the marketeers say), and you will see that the tablet is not a mobile device.

And if it isn’t a mobile device, then don’t treat it as one (here’s looking at all you ecommerce guys who switch to a mobile version of your site when someone views your site with an iPad or other tablet).

Tablets have to be treated as full-screen, lean-back devices, not mobile small-screen devices! That is the whole point behind the device category!

If you have any comments, or wish to discuss this post, please do so on Twitter, where I interact under the ID @AtulChitnis