Size Matters

Kevin Smith
by
on 07 September 2011
I read a disturbing article on TechCrunch this week about the ‘likely’ possibility that Windows 8 will let you run your mobile phone apps on your computer. Now I’m going to give the article the benefit of the doubt. After all, it goes on to talk about the next version of the OS perhaps offering a simple way to ‘sync’ a Windows phone app with its Windows 8 counterpart. Whatever the article is trying to get at, its not being very clear. This is not helpful. When deciding on your mobile strategy, no matter if you are a small business or Microsoft themselves, you need to understand: A tablet (or a desktop!) is not a big phone.

 

I think that there really has been a sea change in the way people interact with technology in recent years. Design has become more important, user empowerment and experience has become the focus. It’s no longer ok to create software that is over complex or unnecessarily techie. And in the age of touch and tech there are now a plethora of devices that a single person may interact with on a daily basis.

Embrace Diversity

It is exactly because of the number of devices and the shift of focus in what software should be like, combined with a more tactile experience, that we cannot and should not think of these devices as fundamentally the same.

I’m sitting here on my laptop typing this. It’s my work horse. I wouldn’t really consider using anything else to type a blog article with. I’m old enough to remember typewriters (just) and the laptop is the digital equivalent when being used for this purpose. There is an association.

Bookish Tech

When you use a smart phone it is of a certain size. It’s kinda the size of a calculator or a small notepad. The screen is great for lists of things, viewing pictures, prodding buttons, making selections, reading small amounts of text. Apps that understand this are undoubtedly best suited to this form factor. Of course, the fact we always have our phone with us means that for convenience we may well put up with software that would be better of on a bigger device. But we do that because we have to, not because we want to. You could use your phone to read eBooks. No doubt some of you do. But a phone sized device does not draw the same emotional connection with a book as a book sized device would do! That sounds silly and obvious but it makes a massive difference to our experience and is probably one of the reasons no one can really decide on how big a tablet should be!

The iPad has a screen size of about 10 inches. It feels like a clipboard, a large pad, a big book, a large photo frame. Apple would have you believe that it is the perfect size. What it is, is a size that helps you draw associations with the things its good at being used for. The amazon tablet is rumoured to be a 7 inch device. Much more book sized. Amazon know that they need to draw on their biggest asset and release a device with the strongest association to that as possible.

There are things you can do on a phone that will always be best on a phone, if for no other reason than its physicality; It’s always to hand. A tablet has a much bigger screen and affords much greater possibilities for creating, editing and manipulating content. It draws us towards different emotional connections, with physical objects that we inherently understand.

Conclusion

So, in conclusion, think about what your app will do and to what form factor it is best suited. This will become increasingly more important as mobile devices become ever more popular. And they will. Think about your software as multi-faceted. Think about using the cloud as your backbone with phones, tablets and desktops doing the things they do best…but not doing the same thing! If you want to put your phone apps on your desktop then maybe Windows 8 is the answer you have been waiting for..but I hope that instead, we will see apps that are reactive and multi-faceted; not phone centric apps running on a desktop. That would just be silly.

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