The web is still buzzing with the announcement of Microsoft's new tablet. Surface boasts some hot differentiators like the cover-slash-keyboard (a bonus for online shopping, making it easier to fill in checkout fields). But perhaps its most compelling selling feature is its compatibility with Xbox.
The Surface tablet has been described as something in between a tablet and an ultrabook. Clearly, Surface is not the "big ass table" unveiled several years ago.
What does this mean for ecommerce?
It's too early to tell whether Surface will put a scratch in iPad's market share, but today's consumer expects your website, content and applications to be accessible whatever device is used.
Responsive Web Design
Surface, and the many devices that will follow, reinforce the need for responsive design to ensure solid user experiences across the board.
Excerpted from Smashing Magazine's Responsive Web design: what it is and how to use it:
Responsive Web design is the approach that suggests that design and development should respond to the user’s behavior and environment based on screen size, platform and orientation. The practice consists of a mix of flexible grids and layouts, images and an intelligent use of CSS media queries. As the user switches from their laptop to iPad, the website should automatically switch to accommodate for resolution, image size and scripting abilities. In other words, the website should have the technology to automatically respond to the user’s preferences. This would eliminate the need for a different design and development phase for each new gadget on the market.
Image source: DesignModo
All you need to know about the topic can be found in Ethan Marcotte's Responsive Web Design.
HTML5 or native app?
With HTML5 you can achieve much of the features and functionality of native apps and create experiences that can be consumed on any device that supports it. To boot, users don't have to download your app, and you can escape the walled gardens of app stores that take a healthy chunk of your revenue, should you want to monetize these experiences.
But apps have their advantages. Depending on what you are building, you may want to offer an app that can be used offline, or that embraces built-in features of the tablet like GPS or shake functionality. If your app has "stickiness" (entertainment or utility value that the user accesses frequently), an app offers the convenience of being an icon tap away, rather than typing a long, ugly URL on a touch screen.
Developing native apps for Surface today gives you more exposure among available apps. We can expect, at least in the beginning, there to be a smaller pool of apps than for Apple and Android.
Whether you build an app or not, the minimum effort (besides doing nothing) is to adopt a Responsive Web Design approach today, to ensure your site renders well on the Surface, and many other niche devices out there.