Is Tablet-Specific Better than Responsive?

A website developed with responsive Web design (RWD) is going to look good on a tablet. It's going to flow in the right order, the calls-to-action are going to be big enough to interact with and, even though it may be a little slower, that's all fine and well, because most people are using their Wi-Fi-connected tablets while relaxing on their couches.

Optimizing a site specifically for tablets, however, has its place, according to a new study/whitepaper from Usablenet. The whitepaper states, "Creating a tablet-specific experience must be more strategic than simply resizing buttons and images - responsive design is a hot topic but not a sure solution. It is a mistake to treat the tablet as a large smartphone or a small desktop computer; the tablet environment must be understood and exploited on its own merits."

Usablenet conducted a survey of 100 retailers and 671 consumers (roughly half of them in the U.S. and half in the U.K.) to get a sense of their attitudes, behaviors (in the case of consumers) plans and offerings (in the case of retailers) for user experiences on tablet devices. Here are the highlights:

  • Seventy percent of consumers say that the quality of photography and design of a tablet site influences their decision on whether to purchase 
  • Despite their portable nature, more than 72 percent of consumers say they use their tablets primarily at home, either while watching TV or in bed at night. Only 27 percent say that they take it everywhere, either for entertainment or work. 
  • The top use cases of tablets for consumers include researching products before buying online (66 percent), watching videos and browsing photos (63 percent), checking prices and looking up store information (63 percent), reading ratings and reviews (54 percent) and browsing products and building shopping lists for later purchases (51 percent). 
  • As for brands, 61 percent of surveyed brands believe their customers want a tablet browsing experience that is consistent with the desktop, but optimized for tablet and 28 percent of surveyed retailers report that they have created a tablet-specific app and another 20 percent say they are planning one.

One finding that surprised Carin van Vuuren, CMO of Usablenet, was she thought there would be a greater distinction between U.S. and U.K. consumers, but what was interesting is that tablets are an "every man's" device, as the study found there were little to no income level separations or usage differences between the countries.  

In terms of what van Vuuren expects from the same study a year from now, she expects to see more video watching (currently 67 percent of U.S. consumers watch videos and browse photos from their tablets) and potentially more app usage (43 percent of U.S. consumers download fewer apps to tablet than smartphone), because as more retailers go responsive, they have to think about how to customize an experience in their branded applications.

You be the tablet-specific design better than a responsive approach if a brand has the resources (time and money) to provide that experience?