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So you want to create an iPad app. Some guiding principles to consider.

On Wednesday, January 27, 2010, the tech world was abuzz. Apple had just announced their latest shiny new toy: the iPad.

At the time and for the weeks and months following, the announcement has been met with mixed reviews. In one camp, people have labeled it as being just an oversized iPhone that was not quite phone, not quite computer. In another, it has been heralded as something that can be expected to revolutionize the gadget industry and way we interact with technology in ways we’ve seen Apple products do in the past. Within Critical Mass, we also had many discussions about the potential impact of Apple’s new iPad. However, regardless of our discussions and each person’s opinion around the iPad, one thing was sure. There was a lot of excitement – especially at the prospect of designing some of the first iPad apps for our clients.

Rather than talk about the impact of the iPad on our industry and market (if you want a great read on the subject, see Neil Clemmon’s post on Experience Matters), this post discusses some of the things we’ve learned about iPad app design and development through our own experience with some of our savvy clients. Through the course of our work with iPad apps, six main guiding principles have surfaced.

#1 – Realize that an iPad app does not equate to a scaled-up iPhone app.
This first principle is essential to embrace. From a logistical design and development perspective, the iPad app specs are obviously very different from an iPhone, and the effort required means the iPad design and development is essentially starting from scratch. It’s best to start with that assumption, rather than the assumption that the existing infrastructure of an iPhone app can be leveraged to shorten the iPad app production cycle. More importantly, an iPad should not be the equivalent to a scaled-up iPhone app from a philosophical perspective. Why? Read on.

#2 – Think customer usage.
The context of how, where, and when a customer will use an iPad, compared with how they would use an iPhone, a desktop or a laptop is essential to consider when designing an iPad app. This is one of the core reasons why iPad apps are not scaled-up iPhone apps. While a person may be highly mobile with their phone, using it everywhere and in spurts, they will likely be less mobile with their iPad. Similarly, they would be more mobile, casual, and spontaneous in their use of an iPad than with a desktop or laptop. So the apps designed for an iPad are ones that should suit that usage – casual, sit-down, spontaneous, but with more time for exploration and engagement than with an iPhone app. The other use case scenario that will be very powerful for iPad apps is in the realm of sales. Sales training, content, education, and product exploration. I’ll leave that with you to chew on.

#3 – Create utility.
The same principle in the creation of an iPhone app relates to the iPad app: utility. More specifically, customer utility. How will the app add value for a customer? Will it be functional, inspirational, educational, entertaining? Whatever the motivation, it needs to fill a niche in the lives of target customers to engage and encourage repeat use. We accomplish this by building an app that brings utility and value to a customer so they want to use it when they need and when they want. The key is providing an app that fills a need or generates a want.

#4 – Leverage the iPad’s built-in capabilities.
As an intermediary between a phone and computer, you could say that the iPad is a compromise that is neither. You could say the iPad pulls the best from both worlds. With its 9.7 inch display, up to 64 GB of storage, A4 custom processor, and specially-designed version of iPhone OS, the iPad is specialized to handle certain things very well: photos, video, games, eBooks, web browsing and email. It’s a specialist and makes it easy and a pleasure to do these tasks. While all three devices can do these tasks, the iPad does them very well. We anticipate that users will tend to gravitate towards giving the iPad preferential attention for these tasks than their other devices. Leverage the functionality built into the iPad when thinking about your apps.

#5 – Maximize the interface.
The iPad comes with a beautiful big shiny screen. Make use of it. While apps on the iPhone were limited to smaller buttons and a much smaller space to play with, the iPad provides much more flexibility around functionality, design, and interface. For example, imagery within the app displays beautifully – so maximize your app imagery potential. Things that needed to be zoomed in on within the iPhone interface no longer need to be on an iPad. Buttons and navigation bars should be designed larger for better user interaction and visual aesthetic.

#6 – Stay open to the possibilities.
This last point applies to all app development, and so I’m including it for iPad app development. Stay open to possibilities. We are sometimes our own worst critics when it comes to app development, concepts, and ideas. Don’t shut things down too fast or just because someone else has done it. Rather than thinking why something shouldn’t be done – why should it? Focus on solving the problem, rather than what the problems are (and often, how many problems there are). Similarly, just because an idea has surfaced in another app or environment doesn’t mean it has no shelf life in your app. Execution and user experience are a big part of the equation. The same idea can be executed in an infinite number of ways – so how are you going to do it better for your clients and their customers?

Taking on an iPad app build is a big undertaking, but infinitely fun and rewarding. Keep your customers–and how and why they use the product–in mind first and foremost. Then leverage the best features and interface capabilities of what the iPad has to offer and you won’t go wrong.

Good luck!

Also posted at Experience Matters.

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One Comment Post a comment
  1. Anonymous #

    Great information! I’ve been looking for something like this for a while now. Thanks!

    August 20, 2010

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