Degrees of intimacy: Tablet, phablet, smartphone and wearable

Degrees of intimacy: Tablet, phablet, smartphone and wearable
Mubaloo helps businesses plan, define and manage their mobile ecosystem, providing inspiration and building intelligent business solutions. Working at a strategic and operational level, we deliver iPhone, iPad, Android, Blackberry, Windows Phone and HTML5 apps that embrace the power of mobile.

(Image Credit: iStockPhoto/onurdongel)

By JP Luchetti, Consultancy Director, Mubaloo

According to a 2002 book called ‘The Mobile Phone: Towards new categories and social relations’ by Leopoldina Fortunati, an Italian feminist, theorist and author, the mobile phone is one of the most intimate devices we have.

Since then, the definition of mobile now includes a variety of different device types, including tablet, smartphone, phablet and wearable. Each device as you move down in size order is more intimate than the last; with tablets being ideal for sharing and wearables ideal for a single user.

Along with the evolution of devices, what we store on devices and use them for has become ever more intimate and personal. Compared with 2002, we store more personal or corporate data than ever before. Apps also tend to reflect the type of person we are, our interests, hobbies and social connections, making our devices more personal and intimate than ever.

Mobile devices are a world away from what they were in 2002. Apps have come to define the world of mobile, but apps need to differ from device-to-device.

Tablets, due to their larger screen size, are better for sharing and longer form engagement or data entry. It’s important that tablet apps offer more advanced functionality than a smartphone app and are designed around their screen size. Where an app on a smartphone may be split between different focused screens, tablet apps can contain more information to provide more of an overview of activity.

As devices that fit squarely between a smartphone and tablet, phablets will run apps that are more designed for a smartphone but with the ability to display more on the screen. Some features – such as landscape mode and the inclusion of a side menu – that gets found on a tablet may find its way to a phablet device but the experience is still closer to that of a smartphone.

Smartphone apps need to be optimised to the type of experience that mobile users want. Though screen sizes aren’t as limited as they once were, information needs to be easily accessible and apps need to be designed for the type of engagement and experience for the form factor. The experience needs to be focused on completing tasks with relative ease. If you take an app like CityMapper, users are able to easily click on pre-programmed favourites and find information local to them or route to a new location in just a few taps.

Wearables are very different again. Though some devices like Microsoft Hololens or Oculus Rift are being pegged as ways to be more immersed, they are more static than wearables such as Google Glass or wrist-based wearables. For the purpose of this article, we’ll focus on wearables such as Google Glass, Android Wear, Apple Watch or Pebble-style devices which are more about short bursts of information.

The majority of wearables – though functional to some extent on their own – require a smartphone to be truly smart. Wearables are largely designed around helping to deliver contextual information from smartphone apps in a digestible and actionable way for users.

If we were to apply this to a real-world example within the enterprise, a field-based engineer may have a tablet that they use to enter in-depth information, get schematics that they can easily annotate, or view or enter longer-form information on-site.

Moving to their smartphone, they may need to use it for contacting colleagues or to take photos or have a form of video communication with colleagues. They may use the smartphone to enter information when they are in a scenario where holding a tablet may not be appropriate.

Taking this one step further – with their smartphone secured in a pocket – small amounts of information could be sent through to a wearable. This could include workflows, safety alerts, or the ability to safely call a colleague without risking holding a phone.

Across all of the devices, they may be running the same app which has been designed to be focused on the experience of each stage of their workflow.

This would be something that would be thought about in the design stage when looking at the wireframes and assessing the role of each device; with what the user would need at any given time.

Companies who have already created APIs will find that they are able to easily extend existing apps to wearables and that the APIs can speed up the development process too. Regardless of how companies are creating apps, they will still need to focus on the design differences and approach for each type of device.

Apple, Google, and Microsoft have all thought about the need for users to be able to seamlessly move from device-to-device and continue from where they left off. It’s important to remember that each device is different, and more intimate than the last. Understanding this will help influence the way in which they are used and deliver the best overall results.

Can you think of other considerations to make when designing an app for different screen sizes? Let us know in the comments.


If you are interested in wearables, please visit IoT Tech Expo Europe in London’s Olympia, December 2-3 2015.

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