Investor Relations, Electronic Documents & Tablet Technology
It seems like everybody has a tablet nowadays and your investors are no different. So, with everyone switching to tablets, it only makes sense for companies to release their electronic documents in a format that is convenient to tablet users.
In his whitepaper Investor Relations and iPad & Tablet Technology, Rich Andrews, CTO of EZOnlineDocuments, LLC, talks about what features are necessary to include in electronic documents and which ones to avoid.
An electronic document is broadly defined by Wikipedia as “any electronic media content (other than computer programs or system files) that are intended to be used in either an electronic form or as printed output.” So the PDF of your company’s code of conduct, the PowerPoint presentation you need to give tomorrow and the app that you created for the major conference your company is hosting can all be considered electronic documents.
I’ll give you Andrews’ recommendations for these documents up front. Andrews recommends that any issuer of electronic documents (like your company, for example) should:
- adapt immediately to the rapid adoption of tablets by their shareholders;
- ensure all your electronic documents use key technologies for tablet users (swiping, tiles);
- bypass expensive technologies that have yet to reach maturity or do not provide enough benefit such as apps and webapps, and;
- ensure SEC compliance (searching, navigation) by testing all electronic documents for usage on tablet platforms while also hosting on cookie‐free sites and avoiding references to the SEC EDGAR documents.
Use of tablets by shareholders
Tablets, including Apple’s iPad, Google’s Android tablets and Microsoft’s Surface tablets are being used by 34% of US consumers, as found by a study done by Frank N. Magid Associates, Inc., and their usage will grow by another 34% in the next two years.
The prevalence and rapid growth of tablet use is also affecting the operating systems for laptops and PCs, as seen with Windows 8, released in November of last year. What sets it apart most from its predecessors is that Windows 8, regardless of the machine its running on, utilizes a tile interface design that is best suited for tablets.
And as technology goes, so goes communications and this is no different. Documents designed specifically for print or online use must now also function well on a tablet.
The biggest change tablets have introduced in terms of how people interact with documents is that tablets are much more touchy-feely. People like being able to manipulate documents on their tablets with their greasy little fingers and when you design a document, you have to keep this in mind, which means incorporating swiping, tiles and zooming.
You’re probably already familiar with the concept of swiping, even if you haven’t used a tablet before. That’s when people are reading a multi-page document or are going from screen to screen in a document and they want to turn a page or go to the next screen, they swipe with their finger across the screen. This action will flip the page or cause the screens to shift. Anybody using a tablet will expect documents to behave this way. However, as Andrews points out, existing document technologies do not support the swipe feature by default, so often documents must be specifically adjusted and coded to support it.
Tiles and hover technology
As mentioned above, tablets have introduced the concept of “tiles” for navigation. They are squares or rectangles that basically act as buttons for people to touch to get to places where they want to go on a tablet. For example, if they want to go to their email, they touch the email tile. Often they are set out on some kind of customizable grid.
Websites are now integrating tiles to replace the traditional small text links and small graphic links they used to use and that can be a pain in the butt to try and tap on a tablet. Another way in which tablet technology is affecting the design of websites is by eliminating navigational elements that depend on “hovering” a mouse cursor over them. As tablet users don’t use a mouse, this hovering interface needs to be replaced for tablet users to get the full experience of sites.
So obviously your electronic documents should eschew hover elements and if you can find a way to use tiles in your electronic documents that’s even better because it will be much more engaging to tablet users.
Zooming and resolution
By now most of us must be familiar with people “pinching” their tablet screens or doing the opposite and putting a finger and a thumb down together and spreading them apart (reverse pinching?). This, of course, activates the shrink and zoom controls on tablets respectively. Fortunately for electronic document creators, these controls are already built-in to tablets so there is no need to worry about incorporating them into a document.
But something they do still have to think about when creating electronic documents is keeping tablet screen resolution in mind. The most popular tablets have screen resolutions from 1024 – 2048 pixels wide and that should be the target resolution for documents to support so they look crisp and clear. Many different organizations have grappled with the resolution problem for tablets and the most common trend seems to be to make documents graphics-heavy and text-light to preserve fidelity while targeting resolutions of 1024 and 2048. However, managing document creation in dual resolutions can be cost-prohibitive so focussing on 1024 pixels wide as a core resolution will usually result in acceptable documents even at 2048 resolution, except for ones that are extremely graphically demanding.
Apps, webapps, and document delivery
Something else that has arisen with the prevalence of tablets is the use of applications specifically designed for them (apps). Apps are notoriously difficult to create and must be created for each specific tablet platform (Apple apps do not work on Android tablets and Microsoft apps don’t work on Apple iPads etc.). To add to this potential headache, each type of app has a stringent approval process (Apple’s is notoriously frustrating) before they are available in their respective app stores (iTunes, Google Play and Windows Store). This approval process includes additional fees and costs. This, of course, means that if you did create an app for a major convention that your company is hosting, for example, you would need to have that app created three different times (or more if you think anyone there will be using a BlackBerry tablet) to make sure you have everyone covered.
But there is an alternative to creating these system-specific apps, and that is webapps. In contrast to apps, webapps (that is, web-based applications) are not published through the Apple, Google and Microsoft app stores, they are hosted on web servers, which means they can be created, approved, hosted and operated outside of the boundaries of the various app store rules. Webapps are a solid choice for issuers of electronic documents to consider but there is an even better alternative yet.
The most cost-effective approach to creating apps is not to create them at all, but to create a standard web page that acts as an app. Now, standard here does not mean traditional with the small text links and such, but just standard as in it is a page on the internet as opposed to being an app. It’s much more cost effective to create a web page than an app, you get to skip all the frustrating approval processes and you can easily design it to look and act like an app if you want, complete with tablet specific interfaces as outlined above.
Social media integration
With the various social media share buttons posted on pretty much everything, it’s not likely that you would forget to put them on your electronic documents. Most companies nowadays have social media integration and share buttons are a low cost, valuable feature to add.
No more Flash
Ah, Flash. Once ubiquitous on the web, this technology has become something to avoid since Apple decided the iPad would not support it. While Google and Microsoft tablets do support Adobe Flash, the iPad still reigns supreme among tablets, thus making Flash something best left out of your electronic documents.
SEC compliance issues: searching, navigation
Issuers of electronic documents must also ensure that they meet US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) compliance rules for electronic documents.
SEC regulations state that electronic documents should be more easily searchable than paper and allow users to go directly to any section of the document they believe to be most important. Searchability of documents can be evaluated by assessing them on a tablet as they’re being developed and ease of navigation can be accommodated by using tab-based menus or tiles. The key is to avoid anything that requires small, precise movements that cannot be easily accomplished on a tablet.
Some other general regulations that apply to all electronic documents, including tablet versions, are rules on hosting and EDGAR (the SEC’s electronic database). The SEC prohibits the hosting of proxy voting material, like the annual report, 10‐K and proxy statement on sites that use tracking technologies like cookies during the proxy voting period. And referring shareholders to the SEC EDGAR file during this period is also prohibited.
So there you have it. You now know what to do, what not to do and how to be more cost-effective when creating electronic documents geared more toward tablet users. You might as well start doing it now ‘cause it’s better to be ahead of the curve than behind it.