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There’s no denying that the tablet is more than a passing fad.

With tablet shipments expected to grow 58.7% in 2013, rising from 144.5m to reach 229.3m, and with 34% of the US population currently owning a tablet, it’s important for brands to approach the tablet design process in an entirely unique and different way than the smartphone and desktop.

Rather than being an extension of these channels, there’s a huge opportunity to turn the tablet into a unique channel for engagement, capable of delivering strong conversion and incremental revenue.

Keeping usability and functionality at the forefront, the tablet experience must incorporate elements that create a rich, emotional experience, reflecting the more relaxed and entertainment-focused mindset of the tablet user.

This cannot be achieved by only mirroring the desktop site. Instead businesses should build a tablet experience that delivers additional layers of engagement.

Responsive design is one approach to web development that many brands are considering to optimize their online content for multiple devices including traditional web, tablets, and smartphones.

While responsive design aims to scale web content across multiple devices with different screen sizes, it doesn’t take into account specific use cases for mobile consumers, and does not provide the best option for companies looking to deliver unique or personalized experiences.

In order to succeed in today’s tablet-centric environment, brands must view the tablet as an essential component of the multichannel customer strategy, and develop an experience which takes into account the device’s unique capabilities. Here are three ways that this can be accomplished.

1. Design for touch 

One of the main distinctions between the tablet and other channels is the way users physically interact with the tablet. With this in mind, companies should consider a distinct user interface for tablet that is strongly focused on touch to make the tablet experience as interactive and enjoyable for the user as possible.

All tablet behaviors should be fluid and allow for smooth motions like swiping and flicking rather than clicking.

A next-generation tablet experience starts with creating a touch-oriented UI focused on user goals which enable users to accomplish tasks quickly and intuitively.

Since tablet browsing behavior is often content-driven, with users spending far more time on the device than they do on smartphones, it’s important to remove all unnecessary items and distractions that are not directly relevant to a certain task.

Modifying navigation from desktop to more touch-oriented interactions, making navigation bars bigger, and streamlining tasks into single pages that used to take many clicks are additional ways to design an engaging tablet experience. 

2. Clearly define the tablet use case

As a marketer it is important to have a clear goals for what you are trying to achieve for your customers on tablet. It is important to understand how to measure success on the tablet so that you will get the most out of the investment.

There are three key metrics to consider, including time spent onsite (measures levels of user engagement), conversion rates that measure the rate of completed transactions, and the rate at which users are sharing content and products via their social networks.

Home Decorators, one of the largest direct sellers of home decor in the U.S., is a great example of a brand with a clear understanding of what it wanted to achieve on tablet, using HTML5 to offer tablet users a rich, catalogue-like browsing experience and bring products to life in an innovative way.

Features such as scrolling galleries of product images and categories, the ability to browse curated rooms, high-resolution product image galleries with zoom functionality, and lastly, full integration with the brand’s email, social, and SEO/SEM marketing channels, provide users with a relevant experience.

3. Create a rich and engaging experience

Tablet devices are often used in a leisurely and relaxed way in the home, with users consuming content and watch entertaining material like videos, shows, and movies. Unlike on smartphones and on desktop, tablets combine utility with entertainment, putting the pressure on brands to create engaging experiences that take into account the context of the user.

Brands can create compelling tablet experiences by offering rich media elements like videos, high-resolution photo slideshows, and engaging high-quality animations. It’s also important to consider various viewing orientations like portrait and landscape to make the experience as user friendly as possible.

Depending on what the user is doing on tablet, whether it’s shopping or watching a movie, they need the flexibility to flip the screen and have the page adapt accordingly. 

Online retailer ASOS is an example of a company that has integrated these various elements to create an engaging tablet experience that puts content at the forefront. ASOS launched an iPad magazine edition app for tablet to integrate its editorial and commercial web properties.

The app contains content originally produced for the online version of the ASOS Magazine, as well as exclusive footage and features such as video and 360-degree views of clothing items.

Users can update their shopping baskets directly from their iPad. Putting the user first and realizing the importance of a content rich experience, ASOS is leveraging the tablet to drive enhanced loyalty and engagement among its customers. 

Looking ahead

There’s no denying that tablets are clearly here to stay and that usage is going to redefine how consumers access services, information and engage with brands. This effect also extends to the workplace, as consumers bring their personal devices to work.

The key to making the most of tablets as a channel for engagement is to design highly-optimized experiences that meet user needs and deliver context. The result will be increased satisfaction and more value from engagement.

Carin Van Vuuren

Published 13 August, 2013 by Carin Van Vuuren

Carin is Chief Marketing Officer at Usablenet and contributor to Econsultancy.

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