March 12, 2013

Three years after Apple and others put digital tablets firmly into the hands of consumers, what do we really know about the way the devices are used for news?

Hundreds of people filed in to a large ballroom at South by Southwest last week for “Lean Forward, Lean Back: Tablet News Experience” to hear perspectives from Poynter research, focus groups and practical case studies from news organizations around the world.

The session brought together part of Poynter’s research team, led by Poynter’s Sara Quinn, who shared findings of the Institute’s EyeTrack: Tablet study, with Mario Garcia, CEO and founder of Garcia Media, and researcher/developer David Stanton from Smart Media Creative. Jeremy Gilbert of Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern was also on the research team.

“It’s essential for editors to rethink how the audience consumes content,” Garcia told the crowd.

The international news designer recommends a multisensory approach to designing for the brain, the eye and the hands. “You must keep the finger happy,” he said, meaning that a tablet user expects to find elements of surprise and engagement. “Like a children’s pop-up book,” he said.

When Garcia maps out the possibilities for interactive “pop-up moments” in a story, he thinks of it much as a screen director might develop a storyboard. He sketches out each facet and puts it up on the wall to step back and look at the flow.

“You should be able to click on an image or photograph for more information, or for a video,” he said. “Pop-ups don’t have to be complicated. But if all you do is turn the pages, your readers are not going to be happy.”

Poynter’s eyetracking study showed a strong tendency for tablet users to focus on content by keeping nearly constant contact with the screen — touching, tapping, pinching and swiping frequently.

“A high expectation comes with the device,” said Quinn. “During our study, we saw readers tap and tap on elements that weren’t tappable,” she said. “The element of discovery is one of the joys of the tablet. And for journalists and storytellers, it takes practice to develop the skills to create consistently strong interactive experience in a story — especially in a daily product.”

recent study shows that tablets engage online users longer than smart phones, Garcia reported.

The Adobe Digital Marketing findings, released March 6, found that said people read at greater length on tablets than on other devices. Adobe found that “on average, users view 70 percent more pages per visit when browsing with a tablet compared to a smart phone.”

Tablets have become the primary device for mobile browsing, Garcia said. Global websites are now getting more traffic from tablets than smartphones, 8% and 7% of monthly page views respectively, according to the study. This includes surfing, video use and shopping online.

“Smart phones are used for shorter visits and moments between moments,” said Quinn, “the tablet lends itself to more leisurely use — perhaps ideal for more in-depth reading and browsing.”

“All of this means change for both storytellers and advertisers,” said Garcia, mentioning the morning and evening editions of Dubai’s Gulf News app and others. “We have seen evidence that users prefer to use it in the evening hours which, we assume, allows for more of an in-depth experience as users are in a more leisure mode,” he wrote in a recent post on The Mario Blog.

“We are going to see more ‘editioning’ — the creation of mini-newspapers and mini-magazines on smartphones,” Garcia said by email.

Garcia commended the German tabloid Bild and the Huffington Post tablet edition for great multi-sensory work. Bild currently has eight staffers who create three to four pop-up experiences each day. They also make good use of templates, he said, so that they are able to focus on the quality of the content.

Tablet research continues, as this summer, Poynter will release results on how touch and interactivity help people understand and remember what they’ve read.

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