Planning an app - Phones, tablets, or both? - Smile Machine
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Planning an app – Phones, tablets, or both?

Planning an app – Phones, tablets, or both?

With all of the major mobile operating systems supporting a selection of screen sizes, ranging from the tiny on watches to the leanback experience on TV, we now have so many opportunities to engage with people.

What if I’m planning an app for phones?

When planning a phone app, keep in mind what the specific purpose of that app is. Some of the key hallmarks of a good phone app are:

  • Each app should have a very focused purpose, ensuring that the only features present are those that help the user achieve their most important desired outcomes
  • It should be quick to use – the ideal app will let the user find what they need during those idle moments in the day (think queuing at the shops, sitting on a bus… you get the drift).

What if I’m planning an app for tablets?

Planning an app for a tablet is a little different. Tablet apps can be more generic, as people tend to be able to commit to a lengthier browsing session. Some of the key hallmarks of a good tablet app are:

  • Someone will be able to search a much broader catalog of information than will be available on a phone app. Perhaps consider giving them the ability to quickly compare two different pieces of information.
  • If relevant, it should offer a richer editing functionality. Unlike on a phone (where the screen real estate is limited), users should be able to take advantage of a larger onscreen keyboard or even an external keyboard. This leads to an experience much more like using a laptop, where the user doesn’t have to sand down their fingers to a pinpoint to press each key…

The challenges of building one for both

Building apps for different types of devices raises a number of unique challenges you won’t encounter if you’re just building for one.


Firstly, you’re going to need to think about screen size and functionality. The difference between screen sizes means that your design can make affordances to the user to let them complete their task more effectively.

In the early days of Android tablets, a lot of mobile apps merely scaled up the user interface to the tablet size, but didn’t take the opportunity to add any additional functionality. As a result, the design often looked poor when scaled and people became frustrated with the apps.

To get around this, you’ll need to really think about the two form factors and the differences in how people will interact with your app across different devices.

Keeping it all together

Your app should also be keeping people synchronised between their phones and their tablets. How will you keep the user synchronized across devices? Well, one way is to use the Handoff technology in iOS and OS X.

People get distracted. If you’re still reading this, I tip my hat to you and your incredible attention span.

But if I start reading an article on my phone in Safari, get interrupted by a Whatsapp message showing me a wonderful array of cat videos and completely forget about the article, with Handoff technology I can open Safari on my desktop later on and pick up exactly where I left off.

This happens more than you’d expect.

This Handoff can happen between phones and tablets as well so that a user can switch from one device to another and continue the task that they started. This will keep your users happy and your app usage high.

Should I do both?

There are a number of challenges associated with a multi-platform approach, but they are worth considering facing. As of 2015 in the UK, 56% of digital media time is spent on phones and tablets¹. This trend has been increasing steadily over time, at the expense of laptop and desktop usage.

For the same reasons you consider what browsers to support, you should also consider supporting more form factors when creating your mobile apps. The more form factors you support, the more opportunities you give people to engage with your app.

Additionally, if you start building an experience that supports both phones and tablets, you’ll be ready for the future form factors that are arriving. Both iOS and Android now support a wearable form factor. In addition, Android supports a leanback, big screen experience and Apple are rumored to be bringing apps to the Apple TV.

Finally, both iOS and Android are making moves into the Connected Vehicle space which potentially offers another interaction space between you and your users. The possibilities are immense!

With all these additional form factors appearing, you should be thinking about how your services can support them to increase the opportunities for people to engage with your app.

¹ The Global Mobile Report – comScore 2015