Look around online or in a computer store and you are bound to see electronic devices in a wide range of screen sizes. There are 100-inch televisions, two-inch phones and everything in between. When we think about mobile devices, two form factors are dominant in today’s market: tablets and smartphones. Tablet screens are about the size of a piece of paper while smartphone screens are close to the size of an index card. But is there room for something in between? Yes.
Phablet or mini tablet?
It turns out that midsize devices are gaining traction. Sometimes known as phablets for their combination of phone and tablet features, these mini tablet devices have many practical applications in the enterprise. About the size of a book, these mini tablets are most commonly used for—you guessed it—reading. Early entrants into the space were the Amazon Kindle and Barnes & Noble Nook. Recently, more companies, like Samsung, Apple, Microsoft and Dell, have introduced their products. Regardless of whether you like this new class of device, many are beginning to employ them for personal and business use. Let’s take a look at the latter.
In the enterprise
Tablets, and now mini tablets, have quickly found their way into the enterprise over the past few years. This device’s portability and ability to perform tasks as a laptop would are a hit with mobile employees. Sellers are one of the key beneficiaries of mini tablets, since they are able to operate the device with one hand and demonstrate products and services using interactive features. However, most workers don’t have just a mini tablet. They are likely to be carrying a PC or smartphone and use the mini tablet as a complementary tool.
At a conference
IBM recently held a Smarter Selling Academy in Japan. During this conference, each participant received a mini tablet preloaded with agendas, documents, presentations and other attendee information from the academy. During academy presentations, participants followed along on their mini tablets and took notes. In small group sessions, the sellers brainstormed ideas and shared with each other on their mini tablets. This initiative worked because the conference organizers figured out the process they were looking to improve and then determined that mini tablets could help support and facilitate that process during the academy.
Designing for mini tablets
You have seen how to effectively use mini tablets in designing a program like a sales academy. But what about designing websites that are viewed on a mini tablet? In a previous post, I outlined the importance of responsive design. While many designers are starting to use responsive design, they may not have designed their sites specifically for mini tablets. Rather, the most common responsive design layouts are for the desktop screen, tablet and smartphone. Thus, on a mini tablet you may see a tablet or smartphone version of the site, depending on its design. But the way you use a mini tablet may be different than the way you use a tablet or smartphone. For instance, you tend to use your smartphone almost exclusively with one hand, except for typing. For tablets, you use one hand to support the device and the other to use it. Mini tablets are large enough that you can use more than one hand at the same time (usually your thumbs) and small enough that you don’t need a full hand to support the device. Your two thumbs can practically cover the entire surface of the mini tablet, whereas on tablets it is a stretch. Given this, the way you present information on a mini tablet should often be different than how you present it on other devices.
If mini tablets do become very popular, perhaps the denim jeans industry will need to make their pockets bigger.
Nabeel Ahmad helps lead IBM's internal mobile learning strategy, focusing on access to educational and performance support opportunities for on-the-go IBMers. He is also an IBM Redbooks thought leader. Nabeel is an adjunct professor at Columbia University where he teaches graduate-level courses on Mobile Phone Learning and Social Media for Learning. Follow Nabeel on Twitter at @nabeeloo.