Many years ago, one of the struggles enterprise-focused mobile device manufacturers, wireless carriers and mobile development tool vendors faced was getting companies to make an investment in building mobile applications for their employees. As we all know, with the introduction of the iPhone and Android plus the effectiveness of the “There’s an app for that” campaign, it’s become less of an issue. BYOD has put a business-connected smartphone in a lot of hands and organizations have built many mobile apps in order to create efficiencies for that mobile workforce.
In some recent conversations with customers though, I’ve learned that many organizations are building fewer smartphone apps and more tablet apps for their mobile users. That revelation didn’t really surprise me, but I didn’t expect we’d get to this point so quickly. I think however that several factors are affecting this trend:
- Building for tablets allows organizations to focus on a reduced number of mobile devices (and configurations) to support. The folks at RIM got hammered for a long time because developers had to support so many different form factors/screen resolutions over the years. The same thing has been affecting Android developers for a long time and of course is now affecting iOS developers as well, although not as much. There’s still a lot of variance in tablet form factors, but with the larger available work area (discussed in the next point) developers simply don’t have to work as hard to create a compelling and useful UI for their applications.
- The larger work area available on tablets allows an organization to fit much more information on the screen, which will ultimately help users of these applications be more effective with the application and be able to work with much more data at the same time. With the way the human brain works, when doing analysis of sales data or other important business information, being able to see as much data as possible at once makes it easier to ‘work’ with the data.
- The way a user interacts with a tablet application vs. the same smartphone application is different – there are operational efficiencies inherent in tablet applications simply because of the amount of information that can be displayed on the screen at one time. Reducing the number of touches and swipes a user has to perform to access all of the information they need to make a business decision has to make tablet applications ‘easier’ to use.
- Developers of tablet applications have potentially more flexibility in their UI designs. For some reason, there seems to be less of a requirement that tablet applications look like other applications running on the device. With smartphone apps, and developers bound by Apple’s Human Interface Guidelines (HIG - http://developer.apple.com/library/ios/#documentation/userexperience/conceptual/mobilehig/Introduction/Introduction.html), there is a propensity for apps to all work in a similar way. Developers building many of the tablet applications that I’ve worked with don’t seem to be encumbered by that particular restriction.
The thing about tablets vs. smartphones is that on top of everything else they do, tablets seem to be more of a presentation tool than smartphones. What this means then is that organizations that provide tablets should:
- Equip their employees with tablets with greater memory capacity. I’d always had 16GB tablets until I joined SAP and found myself with a 32GB tablet in my hand. SAP enables its employees with a lot of mobile apps (mostly tablet apps), but at the same time provides tools which allow me to maintain a repository of my important documents on my device (see the following point) – which quickly consumes that extra memory.
- Build a mechanism which allows employees to easily load employee specific documents and files on the tablet. This includes custom sales presentations, customer background information and more.
- Build a mechanism which allows IT to easily distribute important sales and training materials onto employee devices.
This becomes very important with sales-focused positions – where every sales person for example needs to have the latest and greatest product videos available at all times to show to customers.
In my opinion, mobile operating systems need to allow for deeper integration between applications and the device OS – but that’s a topic we’ll discuss in my next post. Stay tuned.