Tablet-optimized sites boost reach, experience

Increasing tablet uptake will prompt more firms to create tablet-optimized Web sites to reach more users and improve experience but not all will adopt simplified interfaces, observers say.
Written by Jamie Yap, Contributor

As tablet devices continue to be popular with consumers, the number of Web sites designed to be tablet-optimized is expected to grow as companies look to increase their user reach and improve experiences, industry watchers note. However, not every company will follow Amazon in wanting a simplified, minimalist layout (UI) for their sites, they add.

Michael Yoshikami, CEO and founder of YCMNET Advisors, noted that iPad and Android-powered tablets are "making a dent" in the PC space in terms of Web traffic, and he expects this to continue.

He also stated in his e-mail that the future of the Internet will move toward tablet-friendly Web sites as "today's interconnected generation will demand this type of interface".

Mark Koh, senior industry analyst, ICT practice, Asia-Pacific at Frost & Sullivan, added that there are already many sites catering to different computer devices currently--from the desktop and laptop to mobile ones such as tablets and smartphones. Tablet uptake, in particular, is picking up very quickly and will account for "a lot of" Web browsing traffic among specific user segments, said the Singapore-based analyst.

Both analysts were responding to Amazon's announcement that it is redesigning its Web site--a move observers said is geared toward easier browsing on tablets since the e-retail giant is reportedly launching its own tablet device this October.

According to The Wall Street Journal, the new look will feature a minimalist interface with reduced clutter from having less navigation buttons and more white space. The company has been testing the site since late August, although it is not yet confirmed when Amazon will launch it. Technology blog site TechCrunch also said Amazon's redesigned site will become the default homepage for both tablets and PCs, while smartphones will get a separate site design.

Koh noted that Amazon's past site designs have always tended to be simple, so its latest decision to have a "very clean layout" suits its retail strategy, which is to entice more purchases with greater user-friendliness while browsing.

Accessibility, information more important
That's not to say that aesthetics is the main priority for site revamps though, said Vary Yong, director of Singapore-based Web development and design company iFoundries. Rather, accessibility and ease in retrieving information remain most companies' top concern for their corporate Web sites.

He said every business would want to showcase its site to the widest audience possible, regardless of device, so users can easily navigate and retrieve the company's information, products and services, which will subsequently increase the conversion rate.

So, if the main objective of the company's site is to provide information to existing and potential customers, then it makes sense to cater to mobile browsing, including tablets, to increase accessibility, Yong said in his e-mail.

The director also expects to see an increase in tablet-friendly sites with minimalist designs in line with Amazon's design template.

"Being one of the world's most notable Web companies, businesses expect it to have done enough research before its decision to redesign [its site]… and will feel that what they are doing must be beneficial," he explained.

The design aesthetics related to a company's brand identity need not be diluted by the trend toward simpler designs as well, argued Yong, who noted that companies can still retain their unique color scheme, theme and logo.

Furthermore, there is the option of developing an adaptive layout template, based on a single site design, which would appear consistent across multiple form factors, he pointed out. This is possible as the site would recognize the type of browser--whether mobile or via the desktop--and adapt accordingly to the screen size, he noted.

Yoshikami agreed, saying that a tablet-optimized site does not necessarily mean an environment that is less rich for visitors. Advanced Web technologies, such as HTML5 for example, allow developers to provide a rich experience, coupled with a unified look and feel across all device platforms, he said.

Koh added that it is possible to have "tasteful and elegant" Web designs with limited graphics. More critically, a simplified layout also means less delay and lag in rendering and loading speed of the site, which may otherwise put off users, he said.

Stripped-down aesthetics not for all
However, the Frost & Sullivan analyst stressed that the Amazon-inspired minimalist layout for tablets is not a foolproof, one-size-fits-all strategy for every company. It boils down to what the company wants to achieve with its site as well as the targeted user demographic and how they use the device, he explained.

For instance, some enterprises may want their Web site to have a rich, immersive and experiential look and feel, so taking the simplified route would not suit them. On the other hand, there will be others that prefer having a single Web site design that can serve multiple devices and screen sizes so that maintenance is easier, Koh said.

Alternatively, companies can choose not to tablet-optimize their Web site and create a native tablet app that would deliver a tailored user experience instead, he said.

One such company is online fashion store Reebonz, which chose to develop an iPad application instead of a tablet-optimized site. Sharanjit Kaur, the company's assistant manager for public relations and special projects, said in her e-mail that the company chose iOS over Android because Android-based tablets do not come in a fixed size, so "creating the ultimate usability for Android tablets will be an issue".

Besides Apple's iPad, the fashion company is also planning apps for iOS, Google and BlackBerry smartphones, she added.

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