Custom Artwork for Tablet Apps: Worth the Hassle?

In App Design

When it comes to the creative side of mobile app development, a common question we get is: Do I need to create custom artwork for a tablet app if I already have perfectly good creative elements for a smartphone app? After all, there really isn't enough difference between the two to justify creating a completely new set of graphics, right?

Trust us; from an app developer's point of view, we'd love to agree with you. After all, creating new graphics for each type of device takes additional time and effort. Cutting corners is all well and good unless quality suffers. At AppsAustin, we prefer to take the time to create custom artwork for tablet applications, even if we've already made creatives for a smartphone version of the same app. While there are many developers who use the same graphics for multiple devices, we prefer not to—and we'd like to present some of the reasons why.

Size. There's a common argument made that smartphones and tablets have screens that have roughly the same screen dimensions, so graphics created for phones will fit just fine on a tablet screen. This proportional argument is true in some cases—but not all, since mobile devices come in many different shapes and sizes—but it doesn't take into account clarity and resolution. For example, if you blow up an image that's 200 by 200 pixels to 400 by 400, sure, it's still proportionally correct, but it's going to look muddy, pixelated and out-of-focus.

The Android operating system has a corrective image tool for this problem called 9-Patch. This article by Wires are Obsolete explains the process in more detail, but basically it allows coders to put a specialized border around images so they can be automatically re-sized to fit the device on which they're being displayed. (There are also versions of 9-Patch that can be used for graphics for Apple apps.) Within the same article, however, the process is described in kind of unsettling terms:

The 9-Patch is a PNG image with some coding added that allows the Android system to determine how the image can be stretched and contorted to meet the specific layout constraints during use[...]

Words like “stretched” and “contorted” don't exactly sound like faithful image reproduction to us. It comes across as little more than what would occur by just zooming in on the image. Frankly, we'd rather create graphics that fit the exact screen dimensions of the device in question. And—whaddaya know?—Android recommends exactly this in their guidelines for developers:

Although the system performs scaling and resizing to make your application work on different screens, you should make the effort to optimize your application for different screen sizes and densities. In doing so, you maximize the user experience for all devices and your users believe that your application was actually designed for their devices—rather than simply stretched to fit the screen on their devices.

Font Readability. Sometimes it's interesting—and, let's face it, fun—to experiment with different fonts and typefaces to shake up the look of your app. The fact of the matter, however, is that you're not as free to do that with the smaller screen size on smartphones. While font readability is a factor in all online content composition—after all, if you write an entire article in swirly script font, you're gonna chase readers away in droves—it's a special concern with smartphones. Tablets, since they have larger screens which therefore offer a higher degree of font readability, give you more freedom to experiment with fonts you wouldn't otherwise use on smartphone apps.

More Room for More Content. We've saved the big one for last here. With smartphone apps, you have a very limited amount of space to grab attention and direct users where they need to go; as a result, your content must be very simple, to-the-point, and easy to read and interpret quickly. This is wise advice for online content overall, but with tablets you have much more space, and therefore much more freedom.

Even if you subscribe to the school of thought that smartphone graphics can just be blown up to tablet size without the trouble of creating new ones, you should consider this point carefully. The larger screen size of tablet computers give you more space for more detailed graphics, content—and information your customers can use. Consider also that tablets are generally used in places where there are fewer distractions, as opposed to smartphones, which are more on-the-go devices. Cutting-and-pasting smartphone app graphics into tablet apps is robbing yourself of a unique opportunity to make a more detailed connection with your app users.


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