Mobile vs Tablet Apps: Key Points to Consider with UI Design

Mobile vs Tablet Apps: Key Points to Consider with UI Design

For the first time, smartphones and tablets were used to access the internet more frequently than desktops in 2016. The number of mobile devices continues to grow every year. The design of mobile devices plays an important role in determining how apps are built. But how can you design a user interface (UI) for smartphones and tablets to meet all your users’ needs and wants? Should you follow the same rules when designing UIs for smartphones and tablets? In this article, we tell you about UI design features and differences between mobile and tablet user interfaces. We also share a few practical tips on designing UIs for tablet apps.

What’s the difference between how mobile apps and tablet apps are used?

Applications that work on smartphones also work on tablets. But not all mobile applications fit well on a tablet interface. When designing for a tablet device, some people think the design should be based on smartphone apps, while others think it should be based on desktop web applications. You can take either approach. Your design will depend on your chosen strategy: mobile-first or responsive design. What are the main differences between mobile and tablet apps in terms of the UI design?


Context plays a leading role in how mobile or tablet apps are used. Mobile phones help us perform tasks on the go. We use them to order food or check email with one tap. Tablets are also considered mobile devices, but tablet apps are used in different contexts. Firstly, this is related to the screen size. Due to the large size of tablets, users can’t get tablets out of their pockets and perform tasks with them as quickly as they can with smartphones. Users need space such as a home or office in which to interact with tablet applications.

For instance, audio calls using messenger apps like Facebook Messenger, FaceTime, and Viber, are easy to make with a smartphone: just place the call and hold the phone to your ear. It’s also possible to make calls using messenger apps with tablets, but you’ll need to use a headset or talk on speakerphone, which is inconvenient in crowded places.

Duration of use

The next difference is the amount of time users invest in mobile and tablet applications. Mobile apps are a source of quick information: check the weather forecast, write a note, make a call. Users invest 2.8 minutes in completing tasks. Mobile applications are designed for quick interactions. On the other hand, the average tablet owners use their 23 times a day, and each session lasts about eight minutes. Watching videos on YouTube, making presentations, and reading books are all activities that people do on tablets and activities that take more time and attention than smartphones.


Smartphone and tablet applications are designed to perform different tasks. Mobile phones are designed for completing tasks instantly, and the functionality of mobile applications corresponds to this. For example, WhatsApp is a messenger available for iOS and Android phones but not for tablets. Another example is Instagram. This application is known for its photo filters but has also become a successful platform for the provision of goods and services. The Instagram application performs perfectly on smartphones but isn’t optimized for tablets.

Instagram mobile and tablet app
Instagram app

In terms of their functionality, tablets are designed to perform complex and lengthy tasks, especially now when you can purchase accessories like pens and keyboards. For example, the Procreate drawing application for iPad is a great tool in the hands of illustrators and web designers. Thanks to powerful processors and lots of RAM, tablets are capable of performing heavy processing tasks close to those accomplished by computers. That’s why Adobe programs are gradually moving to tablets. Photoshop, Illustrator, Premiere Pro — all of these well-known and convenient tools make tablets indispensable tools in the work of creatives.

Procreate tablet app
Procreate app

How does UI design differ between mobile and tablet apps?

The main difference that influences the UI design of mobile and tablet apps is screen size. All functional buttons, graphics, and text must change to fit the screen. UI design is also affected by how users interact with devices. As a rule, we use our mobile phones with one hand (right or left), and the thumb is the main means of interacting with applications.

Interaction with smartphones

On tablet apps, interactions are different. Since tablets are bigger, users’ interactions come with the help of two hands and two thumbs, in portrait or landscape orientation.

Interaction with tablet

Accordingly, the same application should have a different UX design as well as a different interface on different devices. Take into account the location of buttons and primary and secondary content when designing mobile and tablet products.

Application layouts should also be different. Due to the smaller screen sizes, smartphones require designers to put only the most important content on the screen. Secondary information can be divided into blocks and across several screens. But tablet apps are slightly different. Thanks to the larger screen size, more elements can be placed on one screen without harming the application’s interface. The Harper’s Bazaar app perfectly demonstrates such an approach.

Harper’s Bazaar on smartphones
Harper’s Bazaar mobile app
Harper’s Bazaar on tablets
Harper’s Bazaar tablet app

Tablet UI design tips

A tablet application interface shouldn’t copy and scale the mobile application interface. This is the wrong approach. But it’s also incorrect to modify the application interface on tablets entirely so it doesn’t have the same features as the mobile application. Too different interfaces can lead users into a misconception that doesn’t play into your hands. In order to provide the best experience to users, you should develop separate interfaces for tablet applications and mobile applications while maintaining a consistent UI design. We provide some useful tips below.

Some applications, such as email apps and task management apps, are very similar in their functionality on tablets and smartphones. Therefore, the interface is also not very different. Still, it’s worth remembering such details as the screen orientation and screen size to design the best interface.

Spark is a convenient email application and is available on both tablets and smartphones. The interface on these two different devices is practically the same. But Spark designers took into account the size of the screens and thus achieved friendly mobile and tablet user interfaces.

Spark on tablets
Spark tablet app
Spark on smartphones
Spark mobile app

Don’t change the navigation style when designing layouts for different orientations. Users won’t want to re-examine the interface every time they change the device orientation. It’s also worth considering the orientation (portrait or landscape) for scrolling large catalogs or lists. Choose one style for both orientations in the tablet application.

Tablet UI

Users mostly choose tablets because of their larger screen sizes than smartphones. Therefore, you should consider details such as typography scaling, the increase in functional areas, and graphics quality when designing tablet applications. Professional designers can help you with this and create excellent layouts where convenience and beauty are perfectly balanced.

Tablet UI

It’s important to take into account technical components because such features as haptic feedback, gestures, and processor power are reflected in UI design. For example, iPads have distinctive gestures that differ from those for iPhones. Using an iPad, you can close an application by swiping from the bottom of the screen to the top with one finger. If you repeat the same action on your iPhone, you’ll open a control point. Takes these differences into account when developing layouts, especially if you already have an application for smartphones and are going to launch it for tablets.

Also, take into account haptic feedback. In most tablets, this feature isn’t available, while in smartphones, it’s integral. More often than not, vibration is responsible for signalling that an action has occurred or an application error. In tablets, these interactions are best confirmed visually. Such a UI design will be understandable and pleasant to users.

Wrapping up

Tablet application design is a delicate topic, and tablet applications differ from applications for smartphones. If you’re considering developing an app for your business, then a separate UI design for tablets is a necessity. We hope our tips will help you create an application that meets the needs of your users.Are you looking for a team to design mobile and tablet apps? Contact us to get the best digital solutions.


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