Keep taking the tablets: what the mobile explosion means for content creators

26/01/2011 16:11pm

2011, it seems, is the year of the tablet: from pocket rockets such as the Dell Streak 5 to ten-inchers from every tech firm imaginable, and by 2015 Forrester Research predicts that in the US alone, some 82 million people will spend at least some of their time tapping on tablets. So what does that mean for content creators?

Tablets come in every shape and size

When you’re designing for desktop or notebook users you can be reasonably confident that a design will work on almost everything: even the humblest netbook offers 1024 x 600 resolution, which is a decent canvas for most kinds of online content. That’s not necessarily the case with tablets: the smallest Android devices have four- or five-inch displays that can’t go bigger than 840 x 480 pixels.

There are several ways to deal with this. First, you can create adaptive layouts, which change according to the size of the device using them. There’s an excellent explanation of this at A List Apart. You can use a different stylesheet that strips out items such as adverts and promotional banners to create a more mobile-friendly experience. Or if you’re using a platform such as WordPress, you can install a tablet-friendly “skin” that replaces your entire design with something designed to look good on a tablet or smartphone. Be careful, though, because…

Browser detection scripts can be very annoying

Well-intentioned designers often use browser detection scripts to tailor their online content for specific devices, and that’s a brilliant idea – or at least, it’s a brilliant idea until it stops people from seeing the content they want to see. For example, many sites can’t tell the difference between a smartphone and a tablet running the same operating system, so they insist on giving the tablet user a smartphone-optimised version of the website instead of the normal site.

Even worse, the detection script can stop links in other applications from working, so when a user clicks a link in their Twitter client to a particular page the browser detection script overrules the request and gives them the mobile site’s front page. Instead of helping, the script becomes a bouncer that keeps people from accessing your carefully crafted content.

You need to think about fingers

Many tablets are designed for touch control, which isn’t anywhere near as precise as mouse input. Interface elements that work just fine on desktop computers can be a disaster with multi-touch input: nested menus can be particularly fiddly and small clickable items can be hard to hit.

Some devices zoom; some devices don’t

There are some important differences in the way different devices render web content. For example, iOS devices zoom the whole page in and out; Android ones resize and reflow the text, while zooming other elements such as images.