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How to Create a Superior Tablet Banking App

As banks race to roll out mobile apps for iPads, Kindle Fires and other increasingly popular tablet devices, they need to do more than just port over their existing smartphone apps. Industry leaders reveal what goes into creating an engaging and rich tablet-specific experience.

Tablet use in the United States is expected to more than double over the coming year from its current base of 16 million consumers, according to a report from Javelin Strategy and Research. The Pleasanton, Calif.-based firm also projects that by 2016, 40 percent of U.S. mobile consumers, or 87 million people, will own a tablet.

Considering the enormity of these numbers, including a tablet-specific application in their mobile offerings should be a no-brainer for banks, especially since mobile banking users are prevalent among early tablet adopters, asserts Mary Monahan, EVP and research director at Javelin. However, she warns, "Just porting over a smartphone app to a tablet doesn't count as a tablet-specific offering."

Monahan says the ideal tablet app should go beyond a smartphone app to include features that allow customers to take a deeper dive into information, such as interactive graphs and educational components. That's because the average consumer spends more time on a tablet than on a smartphone, she points out, and the larger screen allows for more interactivity than can be achieved with just one finger on a smartphone.

"If you just take the iPhone app and blow it up for the iPad, you're going to get horrible customer reviews," agrees Jeff Dennes, SVP and chief digital officer at Columbus, Ohio-based Huntington ($54 billion in assets). "It's not just about blowing up what you already have, but making sure that the app is functional for the device that it's actually operating on."

The Best iPad Banking AppsAlthough financial institutions have begun creating applications for Android-based tablets, most tablet-specific banking offerings today are designed for Apple's iPad. Take a look at some of the industry's best iPad banking apps.

He adds, "You're better able to look at a picture of a check, understand the details of a transaction or see the total breakout of your mortgage payment on an iPad versus an iPhone, which is better for more real-time, quick actions, such as checking a balance and looking at transactions."

But designing apps for different devices doesn't have to mean starting from scratch each time, Dennes notes. He says Huntington started out by creating a basic design for an app that would work across multiple devices and operating systems. The design was then tweaked based on the desired user experience for each specific device.

This fine-tuning of an app for tablets creates a more engaging user experience, says Traci Weber, head of Internet and mobile banking for North America consumer banking at New York-based Citi ($1.9 billion in assets). "Ultimately, we want customers to engage with us," she says. "Because we can represent data in such a graphical way in tablet apps, we can get that engagement. It's a huge opportunity to deepen our relationship with customers."

According to Weber, Citi has a small team of employees whose main objective is to create new offerings specifically for tablets and to continuously upgrade the bank's existing apps. The Citibank iPad app recently received praise from Forrester for its advanced personal finance management capabilities and engaging user interface.

A Hybrid Technology Approach

Beyond design, an important part of providing the best possible user experience for a tablet app is leveraging the appropriate underlying technology to support various functionality, according to David Eads, VP and general manager of financial services at Kony, an application platform provider headquartered in Orlando, Fla. An app may use a combination of mobile web technologies and native technologies, depending its desired features, he explains.

Web-based technology such as HTML5 can be used for components such as maps and location searches, according to Eads. But native technology is generally more responsive and easier to use, he says, and thus should be used for components with interactive graphical overlays, such as personal finance management tools. "They don't work with the mobile web," he contends. "If you double-tap on a chart and it doesn't come up or it takes a long time to come up, or there are limits to what you can do, then it's not good for the user experience. You won't get your return on investment out of an application if users aren't happy using it."

A hybrid technology approach allows developers to build a consistent framework with web-based technology and then "fill in the gaps" by building the more rich, customized features with native technology, says Hari Subramanian, technology partner and chief architect in the banking and financial services division of business and technology services provider Cognizant (Teaneck, N.J). "Part of it is sitting on the device, and part of it is sitting on the web server," he notes.

Huntington's Dennes points out that, just as with app design work, banks don't necessarily need to start from scratch when doing development work for different mobile apps. Huntington, he says, used the Kony development platform to create a common code base for all of its apps. "We were able to follow up with an iPad app in about four months time after we developed the iPhone and Android apps because a lot of that same development work could be utilized for the iPad app," he relates. "We were just building upon what we had."

On the other end of the spectrum, Republic Bank and Trust ($3.4 billion in assets) opted for an out-of-the-box solution from Mountain View, Calif.-based Intuit instead of developing its iPad app in-house. This approach helped the Louisville, Ky.-based commercial bank quickly meet its growing customer demand for an iPad app, reports Michael Sadofsky, Republic Bank and Trust's SVP and chief marketing officer. The bank was one of the first to offer Intuit's new iPad app through a pilot with a limited number of customers this past fall, and it rolled out the app to all customers in February, when Intuit officially launched the product.

According to Sadofsky, Republic Bank and Trust had an existing relationship with Intuit, so the iPad app integrated well with its other Intuit offerings, such as online banking and smartphone apps. He says the bank also was pleased with the app's functionality and design, including the ability to move money with the swipe of a finger. "People want an iPad experience," Sadofsky says, "and this app was designed specifically for an iPad."

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