The Good News Is That Your Site Is No Longer A Disaster On A Tablet

02/20/2012

The bad news is its need to become even more adaptive and touch-friendly.

I just did a spot check of about two-dozen magazine brand destinations on my iPad Safari browser and generally most look a lot better now than they did 18 months ago. Or at least most don’t look broken on the first page. Gone are the days when large swatches of some sites suffered the “missing Flash” icon. In fact, nowadays browsing over to People.com or Esquire.com will serve up a contextually relevant prompt to try out their magazine app. In sites such as PopSci.com, I even see the banner ads sniffing out the iPad browser and showing targeted ads about their apps.

Which is good generally. At last week’s Goldman Sachs meeting, Apple ceo Tim Cook proclaimed that tablets will outsell PCs in the coming years. The velocity of sales of the iPad (now at 55 million) has well surpassed Apple’s expectations, he says. And now, Cook admits there is cannibalization going on between the iPad and even Apple’s own Mac laptops. Separately, Business Insider’s BI Intelligence research group issued a provocative prognostication expecting tablet sales to hit 500 million units annually by 2015. Lower prices, adoption by the enterprise, and education and emerging markets will drive 50% annual growth rates, they claim.

But don’t get cocky. In my spot check of sites, many look good on the home page, but actual interactivity on a tablet, especially further into the pages, starts to degrade after the first click. Here are four factors:

1. Fat Finger Fumbling. Some sites have nice large main navigation tabs that acknowledge “fat finger syndrome.” But then they trip over their own headlines. Many sites still rely on boxes of text links to their breaking stories. Just try to get the right one with a fingertip.

2. Drop-Down Downer. Those richly illustrated and full drop-down menus that help users drill directly into the best home-page content are a disaster on tablets. Some of the menu items that cascade a drop-down on the Web either just click the user through to the section on tablets or unfurl a horrendous menu that no fat finger can traverse.

Drop-downs are useful on a tablet, but they keep the choices stripped down and the typefaces large. And they give the user an easy way to close the drop-down. No joke. This is a recurring problem.

3. Somebody Swiped My Swipe. Those carousels on front pages are great for surfacing your lead stories in style. But unless they are enabled for swiping on a tablet, your use is hunting for a tiny advance button. If you really want to endear yourself to tablet viewers, then integrate the styles of interactivity that make the device so compelling. Some sites that do enable swiping actually make things worse by triggering a rapid-fire ratcheting through images.

4. It’s a Site, not a Tax Return. One of the choke points for sites on tablets involves any page reloads. Designers have to be aware that even over WiFi connections they are dealing with diminished speed. This becomes especially frustrating when a brand is trying to gather data from a user, for a sweepstakes or even a newsletter sign-up. Keep the forms very simple, using drop downs to enter information, and minimize the use of “Next” and “Previous” buttons.

Ultimately, site producers will have to decide if they need to design with tablets in mind or build for the touch screen with a site redirect to a separate location. Just last week, People.com (with an Omniture-measured 2.1 million unique visitors per month via the iPad) rolled out a tablet-specific version that has screen-filling swipeable photo galleries, a simplified navigation structure, and even its first ad specifically for tablet browsers.

Everyone’s next challenge involves the rise of 7-inch tablet screens, which all of these rosy projections expect to be a key driver to tablet scaling. Very few magazine sites that I have visited, although better on iPads, are manageable on a Kindle Fire or Nook Tablet. Publishers either need to think about yet another screen or redirect these browsers to their mobile site.

Your mobile site does look okay when blown up to twice its usual smartphone size, right? Oh, boy. Somebody call IT.

Steve Smith (popeyesmith@comcast.net) is digital media editor for min / minís b2b /minonline.com. He posts regularly on minonline and directs the min Webinars. Smith also chairs min’s Digital Summits and, as ceo of Roving Eyeball Inc., he consults for a number of publishers in the digital space.