Tablets vs Phones?...And Your Mobile App Design

Published on
11 Jan 2022

As you would expect, at AP Logic, we get a ton of requests for mobile app development, but interestingly, very few clients know which device form factors (sizes) they want us to build for. Why does it matter?

Have you ever observed people taking notes during a presentation or conversation? Recently at a business symposium, I noticed that about half the room was taking notes on tablets. On phones, not so much. What about checking the status of a flight at an airport gate? On the phone. Comparing prices or reading product reviews while shopping in a physical store? The phone. Reading a book? Tablet. The situation often dictates which device people will use.

So, why not build for both? You, can but its really two different apps, with the commensurate time and cost. In fact, building for tablets is really more akin to building a desktop app or website than building for a phone. When we design screens, we group the tablets together with our desktop applications from a UI standpoint, and treat the phones separately. An iPad screen has about 7 times the area of an iPhone and typically most “desktop” websites will render just fine in Safari for the iPad. That’s a completely different design challenge than the phone. In fact, when on a budget, you might just do that: build a phone app and let tablet users browse your site unless they like to torture themselves with a phone app on the tab.

Once you’ve admitted that tablets and phones require a very different approach and solved the terribly obvious question of “does the user have the device?”, then you can ask:

  1. Are people physically moving or don’t have access to a larger device? If so, the phone is most convenient for them. This applies to pedestrians, shoppers, drivers (gasp), short-ride vehicle passengers and others.
  2. Is the user responding to an immediate problem? Finding gas, food or lodging on your phone while pulled over on the highway is very different than planning the trip in the first place. Don’t confuse the two! I only use Priceline on my phone when I need to book a hotel immediately and I’m in a vehicle or meeting. Otherwise, its MUCH easier to use on the tab or laptop.
  3. Is the user focused more on data input or output? A physical keyboard is the obvious answer to input. However (for the non-initiated), you will be surprised how easy tablets are for typing, and if its notes, emails, etc, they are very adequate in a pinch. A phone works for short messages and tweets, but generally is not an “input” device.

Looking to the future: Once eye-tracking and voice recognition become standard forms of data input, most of the above criteria will disappear. At that point, almost everything will have a degree of mobility, and the larger issue will be the user’s degree of distraction and how much physical area exists to display information.