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Forget Mobile First, 2013 Is the Year of Tablet First

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It’s the greatest canvas for media ever invented. It’s colorful, tactile, powerful, and programmable. - Robin Sloan, Author and Media Inventor

Plenty of people have said it before, but this time it’s official - 2013 really is the year of the tablet. And if you’re in the content business (meaning you’re a publisher or marketer), this is the year you need to be thinking tablet first.

The newest numbers for tablets tell the story: Apple has sold over 100 million iPads to date. Amazon, Google, Microsoft, Samsung and others have competitive tablet products in market and tablet traffic grew 300 percent in 2012. In fact, tablets will surpass smartphone traffic in early 2013, and will account for 10 percent of all Web traffic in 2014. And this percentage is higher for content-specific traffic (i.e. reading, watching and engaging). Despite the fact that only 23 percent of companies design their sites specifically for a tablet and only 33 percent test their sites on tablets, consumers are taking to tablets like fish to water. These numbers alone should spark CEOs and CMOs to get their teams thinking tablet first when designing new products and marketing campaigns.

As impressive as the numbers are, the real thing driving this growth is design: tablets can deliver wonderful content experiences. The Web has changed the world in thousands of ways, but print has remained one of the best ways to get truly wonderful editorial experiences - thoughtfully laid out magazine covers and article pages, large high-quality images, a human touch when integrating advertising, a tactical experience in turning a thick shiny page and, yes, even the smell. By contrast, old-school online content is typically crammed in a box with small pixelated images, stuffed unreadably with search-friendly keywords, and surrounded by distracting blinking ads. The content seems secondary to the noise that surrounds it.

It doesn’t help that desktops and laptops are designed for work (usually upright at a desk) and smartphones are made for simple, on-the-go communication, services and anti-boredom, light entertainment.

Tablets are changing all this - they’re the ultimate media consumption devices. With the critical mass of tablet adoption, publishers and marketers are now able to deliver wonderful digital content experiences online. First, tablets have a form factor that is nearly ideal for readers - perfect for bed, beach or plane. If you haven’t experienced the New York Times’ transcendent story called Snow Fall on a tablet, you’re missing one of the coolest new content experiences you can have.

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The high-res page-size displays on tablets make viewing high quality video and photos a pleasure. And, the native touch gestures, more human than mouse clicks and more elegant than fumbling thumbs on a phone, give us tactile joy. I hear my friends say things like how they’re looking forward to "curling up" with their iPad to relax and read the New Yorker. Content creators and marketers: your "wow" experiences need to be here.

The best content producers will refine their mantra to be tablet first. Why? Smartphone screen sizes are small and when you’re using your phone, you have a short attention span. You’re focused on consuming information quickly and on the move. These constraints mean you need to radically simplify a design. On the other hand, large screen sizes give you too much real estate and create the illusion that the reader has more time to discover. Designers will forget about simplicity and add widgets, ads and calls to action because they can.

Transposing either experience into one holistic, device-agnostic design is difficult and time consuming - you are either greatly compromising the original concept, or redesigning altogether for specific devices.

The answer is that content producers should be designing for tablet first. At Say Media we did this with ReadWrite. USA Today, Forbes and The Next Web among other information-heavy news sites have also taken tablet first to heart. In a tablet-first design, you have enough real estate to deliver rich, quality media and create excellent reader experiences, and you’re forced to only include the most important parts of telling your story. Your design concepts will, if done well, transfer to the smaller and larger formats better when you start from tablet than if you start from an extreme (mobile or desktop).

Readers are flocking to tablets as the content device of choice. And the good news for content creators and advertisers is that these devices allow us to make content truly beautiful and engaging again.

John Vars is director of product management at Say Media.

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