3 iPad Mini Design Considerations For Developers

Editor’s note: Boris Chan is a principal at Xtreme Labs who leads product development and innovation efforts. Follow him on Twitter

Apple finally unveiled the iPad mini last week. Perhaps its main selling point is that it runs the same apps as the iPad and works just as well with the same screen resolution despite its smaller size. However, a new device on the market means there are many issues developers must take into account. Here are three important considerations for delivering a great experience on the iPad mini.

1. One-handed usage. The smaller size of the iPad mini enters the market of one-handed tablets. Now developers need to consider how users will navigate an app with only have one hand. With this in mind, developers will need to design content that is easier to interact with via one-handed simple gestures. Where pinching and zooming motions once flourished on the iPad, the iPad mini will need to rework gestures so they can be performed with one hand. I imagine developers will employ more tapping, double tapping and scrolling to accommodate for single-handed use. The Letterpress word game is a great example, as it can easily be played with one hand.

I expect to see fewer paging designs by default. Much like iBooks’ scrollable theme, there will be a preference among developers to create longer pages that require more scrolling as opposed to shorter pages that require a user to move from page to page. Being able to flip through content with a simple gesture is universal, though—Flipboard will be great on all form factors.

2. Portrait by default. A number of current iPad apps are set to landscape view by default. Since one-handed use will predominate with the iPad mini, this trend will shift. If they aren’t doing so already, I see an added need for developers to support orientation changes so that consumers can use an app in both portrait and landscape. The portrait view should also support all the primary functions of the app without requiring landscape. For reading apps specifically, developers must support the ability to turn off rotation. Path, newly released on the iPad, takes full advantage of landscape/portrait differences.

Something to avoid: just making a bigger iPhone app bigger. Even though the iPad mini is smaller, developers still need to build an iPad app. For example, with the Nexus 7 and smaller tablets, many apps are not tablet-ready; rather, they are just enlarged versions of the phone app. Avoid this temptation and create a much better user experience by designing iPad mini apps specifically for the tablet form.

3. Glance-ability. The iPad mini will be used on the go. That’s a given. But more interfaces will be designed for shared usage. I think we’ll see an uptick in apps like customer surveys and restaurant menus, where developers have an opportunity to reach situations where people are showing and sharing content on a single device.

Outside of that, I see more frequent usage while people are out and about, given the portability of the device. This means there’ll be more scenarios where users are only looking at an app in passing. I see navigation for directions/maps as a space where this is especially interesting. Smaller tablets are easier to use passively in the car or while out on the road. Waze and Google are some standout examples of apps that work well. Waze has an awesome and easy-to-understand map view on the go, and Google offers an instant dictation view for voice search.

I also expect more people will use more iPad mini features while they’re out, including camera/video recording and location-based features that have cross over into the tablet market. Developers should take this into account when building apps specific to the new device.

Overall, it may seem like developing for a smaller iPad with the same resolution should be easy. Yet, developers should be taking into account these unique use cases for the iPad mini and make the necessary design changes to their apps to keep users happy.