When tablets meet your website

Many companies are still working on designing a mobile version of their website, but the internet, being a creature that can never sleep or stand still, is already moving on. This time to tablets like Apple's iPad.

With the new technology comes a host of new formatting issues. In many cases your standard website (the "desktop version" as it is now being called), while slightly too big, will work just fine on a tablet; for other websites, or tablets with smaller screens, the mobile version is better, if slightly too small.

As Goldilocks discovered, though, "too big" and "too little" are different from "just right".

Putting a mobile-scale layout onto a tablet's larger screen tends to look ridiculous, as many app designers learned when they tried to export existing iPhone apps directly to the iPad. And using your desktop website might not work if it is designed to take advantage of larger screens, Flash, complex forms, or other hardware or software resources common to a desktop computer that may be lacking on a tablet.

ReadWriteWeb has a good checklist to help you test your existing website on a tablet from John Paul Titlow. First step, get a tablet to work with (in case you're still looking for an excuse). Then, go through these steps (and read the full article for further details):

  1. Test your site on a tablet
  2. Simplify the layout
  3. Ditch the Flash
  4. Check your form fields
  5. Make the user interface app-like
Tellingly, this list is very similar to the checklist for testing a mobile website. Or a desktop website, for that matter, substituting the various browsers for tablets and smartphones. In fact, a couple of these points are becoming standard best practices for all web design: Flash is no longer a good option for site navigation (use it for flavor only), and simpler layouts tend, in almost every case, to work better and make navigation easier. Or, as Titlow puts it: 
If simplicity is important in standard Web design, it's even more critical in designing for the iPad and similar devices. As a rule of thumb, strip out any elements of a page's layout that are not absolutely essential. Consider dropping that three-column layout for two columns. In many cases, cleaning up your site's design for the benefit of tablet browsers will have the added advantage of making the desktop browsing experience better.
Titlow recommends, resources permitting, creating a dedicated tablet-specific website. That's probably somewhat overkill, especially since tablet standards are still developing, and now describe devices ranging in size from "slightly bigger than an iPhone" to "slightly smaller than a laptop", with a wide variety of aspect ratios, browser combinations, and technical capabilities.

More likely your company will be fine making a few modifications to the existing website, and providing tablet-optimized versions of the resources your clients are most likely to need while away from their desks.