What can your brand offer to a potential customer using a tablet ?

Laurent Gerniers 07-08-2012 Market

How do customers experience the use of a tablet?

What kind of experience are they looking for?

What exactly are they using a tablet for?

A good two years after the launch of the first iPad enough statistics are available on the web to form ourselves an opinion.

Lean forward, lean back or is it curl-up?

How involved are users, what’s their attention span, are they doing different things at the same time, how much are they absorbed by a certain activity?

Reading a book, watching a movie is understood to be a lean back activity. You are relaxed, you are absorbed by the content that is provided to you, you are in the flow and you pay but little attention to external activities. In the same way, reading an article that interests you in a newspaper or a magazine is also a lean back activity.

Lean back implies that there’s a high absorption rate, a high sustained attention and a low attention rate for external activities. Lean back makes us think of the image of someone relaxing on a couch with a drink within arm’s reach, vegging out.

Browsing the web on a PC, scanning a printed newspaper, zapping TV channels is a lean forward activity. You are paying a lot of attention to a multitude of things and you are open to a lot of suggestions, opportunities, activities, you are just looking for something, you are feeding yourself with information, with content.

79% of readers are scanning when browsing the web, they don’t read.

Lean forward implies there’s a low sustained attention, a high attention rate for external activities and a low absorption rate. Lean forward makes us think of the image of someone leaning forward, scrutinizing the computer screen.

With the introduction of the tablet, a new kind of behaviour came about, we “curl-up” with our personal device. We become one with our device.

At the same time, our tablet is used for a number of activities that we used to do on other media. We browse the web, we watch movies, documentaries, news,… we read books, we communicate (email, social media), we play games, we use it for work and we use quite a number of specific convenience apps.

The tablet brings all this content close to us, and it’s immediately available, at whatever moment we need it.

It is also important to understand that regardless of the fact that the iPad was introduced as a media consumption device, it has certainly become a creation device as well. And if it’s used in a work environment, then that becomes even clearer.

Is our behaviour when consuming and creating content on a tablet different than on other media?

From my point of view not really, but it does bring an extra dimension. The major difference is the proximity of other activities, which could increase your attention rate for external activities and subsequently lower your absorption rate. Watching a documentary on your tablet is a lean back experience, reading a book on your tablet is a lean back experience and browsing the web on your tablet is a lean forward experience.

When designing tools for tablets we have to take into account what type of activity we are guiding the user to. For example if you want that user to watch a movie that will last for at least 30 minutes you need a minimalist easy-to-use design, with a functional navigation only visible when starting or stopping the video.

But if you have a 2-minute video embedded in a brochure, and accompanied by some textual content, charts and pictures, you will need a functional design that is clear and always present. You are providing the user with a multitude of information and you want him to choose what he or she wants to view.

This is a typical example of the same type of activity that – under different circumstances – offers a completely different experience and requires a completely different approach.

On a tablet we have to offer a user the possibility to switch to another type of activity and we have to know that his or her attention rate will always be lower. But in no way does this mean we cannot guide the user to a pure lean back or lean forward activity or that they would not enjoy this activity with the same enthusiasm as on another medium.

It would just be a different experience. A tablet brings the content closer to the reader, makes it more personal and offers more possibilities. A movie theatre may bring the viewer in the middle of the action, but doesn’t offer other possibilities.

So yes: watching The Hunger Games in a theatre may be the ultimate experience. But watching the director’s cut on a tablet in the train can be just as special.

Conclusion: an experience is linked to an activity and influenced by the medium. This means you have to remodel the way you present your content depending on the medium.

Is the tablet medium the same as the smartphone medium?

No! The activities we use our smartphone for are nearly all lean forward activities. Very functional activities, on a screen of a limited size. You do not have a lot of space to visualise software functions and to create an atmosphere. There is not as much space for an enjoyable lean back moment. Lean back activities are not really meant for smartphones.

A device like the rumored iPad mini would also be a very lean back medium because it would be intended for very specific activities. It would be an ideal device for reading books. Minimalist design, straight to the activity. This type of device will not invite you to do different things at the same time although it would probably be possible. The screen size will invite you to concentrate on one activity.

I think every specific activity will have a specific medium that it is best suited for. But in the end a lot of activities could be done on different media as long as they are adjusted for the characteristics of each specific medium.


Going back to the tablet the curl-up aspect is its characteristic. Very close to the user, very personal, in control and multifunctional. Both for lean forward and lean back activities.
Because it’s so personal it offers great opportunities for branding and customer engagement.

I have brands I love. For clothes I love Gant, Scotch & Soda, Ralph Lauren and Marlboro Classics. I would love to receive digital brochures of these brands, special offers, personalised offers and coupons, privileges. I would like to be a part of this community and this would have a positive impact on my engagement towards these brands. The same goes for Specialized bikes, Audi cars, Nouvelle Frontière holidays, Apple gear, NAD Hifi equipment, etc.

Consumers are open to the kind of app that will bring them closer to their preferred brands and that will provide them with useful information about their products. This as true for both the business-to-business market as well as the business-to-consumer market.

Because the tablet is so close to the user, it makes it an emotional medium where design is very important (and remember: “Design is not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works”), and where you have the possibility to combine different types of experiences in a single moment.

This should be handled with care! You have to respect the user, your potential customer, he/she is in control, but once he or she lets you in, you are there to stay if you can meet the expectations. To develop brand applications you will need a powerful platform that enables you to combine interactivity, content and design within a single application.

One content message, different media

Today a lot of publishing solutions talk about publishing to different media. I can understand this reaction from a practical point of view and it a logical reflex from people traditionally involved in print.

For me it is essential to understand that you do not read an article on a smartphone in the same way as you would on a tablet: on a smartphone, you expect a quick overview, but on the iPad, you expect a big article with great pictures just like you would have in the printed version of a magazine, but at the same time enriched with audio and video, slide shows etc.

The content is different and the way to present that content to the user is different. So why would you want to obsessively try to find a unique way to publish the exact same content to different media? In order to maybe reach even less readers? Or to convince yourself that digital media just doesn’t work?

Just like we invested time and money in printed media we have to do the same for this new medium. And we also have to make choices as a function of our objectives. Which medium is the best to achieve the experience that we want to provide to our customers?
It will take time to understand everything that’s involved in a new medium, but please try and take advantage of the wealth of new possibilities and don’t try to transform it into classic media.

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