For many app developers, tablet UI design tends to be an afterthought after mobile and web design. Part of the problem is that tablets are so similar to mobile phones. As a result, many developers view the tablet as just a larger mobile phone screen size. While this thought is understandable, it is the wrong approach to tablet UI design.
Tablet apps tend to fill different needs than mobile phone apps, and thus, they need to be treated differently. In this post, we will share some UI design tips and ideas for tablet apps, and we will also explain why phone and tablet apps need to be thought of as two distinct entities.
How Tablet UI Design Differs from Mobile UI Design
There is a common urge amongst developers and designers to treat tablets like very large mobile phone screens. The functionality of the two types of devices is very similar, but tablet apps shouldn’t be direct scaled copies of your mobile app. Yes, many of the design and UI elements will be the same between tablets and phones for the sake of continuity. Still, due to the different ways users interact with these devices, there must be differences in the UI design.
Here are some important things to consider about the difference between phones and tablets:
There are different user expectations for tablet apps. We use our phones every day. We take them on the go with us, and they get primarily used to connect with people, stream music, and use social media. Tablets have a different context because these devices are so much larger. Tablets are most often used to stream video content and play games. Users have different expectations for tablet apps because they are utilized in different ways.
Even if you offer a mobile phone app, you need to think about how your users will most likely use and interact with your tablet app. Just because phone users use your app in portrait mode doesn’t mean that your tablet users will want to use it in the same manner. Your UI design should reflect the context your app will be used in.
UI elements need to affirm the core functionality of your app and support your content. The screen sizes on phones are very small. As a result of their size, mobile phone UI elements must be subtle and unobtrusive. By comparison, there is a lot more screen space when designing for tablets. You should utilize the additional space by bringing more content into view for your users, but be careful that you don’t do too much.
A good design example to think about is columns. The mobile phone typically utilizes one column of content because of its screen. However, with a tablet, especially if you are using landscape mode, you can utilize two or even three columns of content.
This is another facet of design where screen size plays a very important role. Even the biggest mobile phones have small screens, so all gestures and interactions must serve a specific purpose. Tablet apps can utilize more gestures and animations thanks to their size. However, it is important that you allow users to interact with the entire screen. It can get confusing and frustrating if gestures and inputs are relegated to specific sections of the screen.
Remember, you don’t want to make your app too complicated to use. All interactions and gestures should be intuitive and easy to control.
Adaptability is a bigger issue with tablet apps in comparison to mobile phone apps. Once again, screen size plays an important role. Phones are much smaller. Therefore, there is less of an issue with what to do with screen space because there is so little of it. However, tablets enjoy big screens. This is great because a tablet app can deliver a mobile phone-like experience in portrait mode and a desktop-like experience in landscape mode.
Your UI elements need to be adaptable to both portrait and landscape modes. Keep in mind your app’s context, organization, and interactivity while considering how well it adapts to various settings.
Tablet UI Design Tips
Whether you’re developing for iPadOS or Android tablets, the following design tips will be helpful to your designers:
- Touch targets need to be easy to tap.
- Selectable items need to have clear button options.
- Touch targets should be slightly bigger than your buttons to ensure touch accuracy.
- The most prominent features on any given page should be your active elements.
- Your important content should never be hidden.
- Most users are right-handed and will hold their tablet in their left hand; bearing this in mind, be careful that users cannot accidentally touch the menu with their left hand as they use your app.
- Take advantage of spatial transitions and other action animations.
- Keep scrolling to a minimum.
- Don’t go overboard with text hierarchy; after heading 3, it becomes difficult to differentiate visual weight in headers.
- Phone apps rely heavily on haptic feedback (vibrations) for action confirmations; visual confirmation is more effective in tablet apps.
These design tips are geared most towards tablet UI design, but it is important to remember that common design practices, especially regarding color, contrast, font, etc., are the same no matter what devices you are designing for. Just because you are designing UI elements for a tablet does not mean you forget all of the design principles you employ in mobile apps or websites.
The best tablet apps look and feel very similar to their mobile app counterparts, but they take advantage of the extra space and features afforded by a larger device.
Tablet UI design does not have to be complicated. If you need help designing a great tablet experience for your users, reach out to an app development partner. A partner can guide you through the entire process using their industry experience and technical expertise to help you build a great tablet UI.