Whilst the core functionality typically remains the same across mobile and tablet apps, it’s vital that you consider the user interface when designing your software. The chances are that you want to offer users a consistent experience across their devices, but that doesn’t mean your iPad app should simply be a blown-up version of the mobile software. Indeed, tablet apps fill different needs than mobile apps – there’s more screen real estate to work with, and they’re commonly used at home and in the office rather than on the go. The best strategy is to consider your phone and tablet apps as separate entities with some overlaps.
In the development world, it’s common to treat a tablet like a large phone screen, but there are different use cases and user expectations between the two. Below, we’ve put together some important considerations to make to ensure your iPad and tablet app works at its best.
Think about organisation
Although our iPhones are larger today than ever before, developers still lean towards subtle and unobtrusive design choices because they don’t have a great deal of space to work with. It’s common to see hamburger menus and left-hand menu panes to make the most of space on smaller devices, and though some of these design elements can be translated onto your tablet app, it’s important to remember that there’s a lot more screen space to work with.
Make the most of it – rather than swashing elements into the four corners of the screen, make it easier to find features and functionality by utilising the larger form factor of an iPad or Android tablet. Where mobile apps conform to a single column, tablet apps can use two or even three columns, especially in landscape mode, to properly display relevant content.
Many developers use their tablet apps as an extension of their mobile apps, particularly for productivity apps like accounting tools and corporate software. Mobile and tablet apps do the same thing, but on tablets, content is better organised and there’s more breathing room.
Update your gestures
Both Apple and Google have worked hard over the years to design common gestures that now feel natural, like swiping left and right to access different content windows, and pinching to zoom. On tablets, you can utilise even more of these gestures and animation options as you have more space to do so. Think about how your audience will interact with the entire screen and make sure that any gestures and animations are consistent with your mobile UI to avoid confusion. Keep it simple, but look for ways to elevate what you’ve built on mobile.
On iPad, for example, there are a number of advanced gestures that developers can tap into, more now than ever thanks to the removal of physical buttons. Your app should be built with these in mind – for example, app switcher and Slide Over should be embraced, allowing users to make the most of your functionalities as well as running a smaller app over the top.
Think landscape and portrait
It’s natural to design an iPad or tablet app for landscape mode, but you should ensure it works just as well in portrait mode, too. Deliver a phone-like experience in portrait mode for standard tasks and information-gathering, and a desktop-like experience in landscape mode for more complex activities like data entry to increase the viability and usability of your app.
Make sure UI elements are adapted to portrait and landscape modes: consider your app’s content and interactivity and ensure it seamlessly flows, whatever the device’s orientation.
It’s also important to note the great variety in tablet sizes. From the tiny iPad mini to the supersized 12.9-inch iPad Pro on iPadOS to the 8.7-inch Realme Pad Mini and Microsoft Surface Pro, which runs Android apps, there are lots of screen resolutions to consider.
Get the basics right
With so much to think about when developing apps for phones and tablets, it’s easy to overlook some of the basics. For example, you should review your touch targets and ensure they’re easy to tap in different screen sizes and make sure selectable items have clear button options across all operating systems. There are a number of automated Android app testing tools that can be used to see how your app looks and performs on different screen sizes – it’s worth trying them to ensure your software performs in the way you might expect.
Whereas smartphone apps use haptic feedback and vibrations for action confirmations, this isn’t the case on tablets, where visual confirmations such as colour changes and flashes are required. Although iPads and tablets may feel like desktop experiences, it’s important to keep scrolling to a minimum – consumers aren’t used to scrolling inside of apps and it can be alienating, or result in important content and functionality being hidden from the initial view.
Check that your touch targets are bigger than your buttons to improve touch accuracy, and think about text hierarchy – use headings one, two, and three, but avoid too much text or using small text that might be hard to read on smaller tablets. Colours, contrasts, and fonts are even more important on tablets than on smartphones due to the screen real estate, so keep those design principles in mind. Finally, consider both right- and left-handed users, and make sure important elements like menu bars aren’t hidden when devices are held in hands.
User interface design for iPads and tablets doesn’t have to be complicated, but it does require more thought than simply porting your smartphone app to tablets. If you’re looking for support, reach out to the mobile app development team at Zudu. We’ve worked with 100s of clients on iOS and iPadOS apps with excellent UI that make a real difference to users’ lives.