Running Notes Applications on a Tablet

In The Beginning….

Many years ago, shortly after the original iPad was released I was sitting in a meeting. In one corner of the room was my esteemed colleague Tim “XMage” Tripcony. As the meeting progressed Tim started chuckling a number of times as he “tapped” away on his new iPad. Eventually I asked Tim what he was working on. He asked me to wait a minute or two before he beamed a big smile at me and proudly did a reveal of an XPages application running on his iPad that he had just developed whilst we had been sitting there. For all I know Tim may have been the first person to ever develop a “Notes” application on an iPad. When I asked him how he did it he explained he had remoted in to his home server aka “Frodo” using his iPad. I never saw Tim develop too many applications on his iPad after that first one. I suspect the lack of a keyboard and limited screen real-estate were not conducive to writing lots of code. But that wasn’t the point. What had captivated Tim was to demonstrate the potential of the device to change the way we work.

Tablets: A Business Tool

Many years later the tablet has evolved. When we take the family on a long road-trip the chances are the car will have tablets strapped to the seats to provide in-car entertainment. When taking a plane to a conference probably the first thing you will see the pilot pull out of his case is a tablet containing all the flight manuals. When you visit a doctor the visit almost always starts with a nurse armed with a tablet to undertake the preliminary analysis of your symptoms. The tablet is increasingly empowering the workforce to get their jobs done whenever people are on the move. Even when chained to my desk I still take advantage of a tablet as an extra screen to help with side tasks such as processing mail or searching the internet.

Later this month we will see the release of the new iPad Pro, a device with a 13″ display, 64 bit processor, weighing 1.57 pounds and costing as little as $799. We have also just seen Microsoft release the Surface Pro 4 with similar specs and price but with one important difference. Whereas the iPad pro is running Apple’s mobile OS iOS, the Surface 4 is running a full blown version of Windows. Both are marketed as tablets.

With the Surface Pro 4 it appears that Microsoft may have blurred the lines between a notebook computer and a tablet. The release of iPad Pro provides the perfect meeting point for the notebook and traditional tablet. Up until now for “real work” I have been using a combination of a  MacBook Air for OS X and a Lenovo Yoga Pro 2 for Windows/Notes. Both have a 13″ monitor, the Yoga is even touch screen and supports a tablet mode. But they each weigh twice as much as the iPad Pro/Surface Pro 4, which is why I also have an aging iPad 4 that almost always goes everywhere I do. Now that its 2015, what is it that I really want when I purchase a tablet? Do I want the simplicity that comes with iOS and the amazing array of applications available from the App Store? Or do I really need the power of full-blown business software and true multi-tasking?

If your employer is a Notes shop and you make regular use of one or more of the 10 million Notes applications still in use today you may want to consider, like me, the additional value the Surface 4 Pro (or similar devices) provide. It runs the full version of the Notes client as well as Domino Designer and Domino Administrator. The era of developing and running Notes applications on a tablet has truly arrived!

Notes Applications

For a number of years now we have seen a growing number of companies looking for ways to make their existing Notes applications relevant in a modern world, including making them accessible on mobile devices. Options include the development of an XPages front-end or pure Web applications using REST services. For offline capability Teamstudio Unplugged also provide a path that negates the need for an expensive port away from Notes/Domino. But if your use-cases for mobile access revolves around tablets you may want to consider the option of tablets like the Surface Pro that run Windows. This may provide a relatively simple way to maximize the return on your existing investment by expanding the reach of Notes client applications to tablets.

That doesn’t mean your existing Notes applications won’t need some changes. We still need to accommodate the differences in the UI. Focus should be on applications from which business value is derived from content consumption rather than records management applications with high data entry requirements. We also need to account for the differences that come when the finger is used as an input device instead of a keyboard/mouse combination. The following is a list of some of the changes that can be quickly made to existing Notes client applications that will help to make them usable from a tablet.

  • Don’t rely on keyboard shortcuts for important tasks such as editing a document, closing a document, expanding/collapsing views, or opening the search window. Always place icons on views/forms as an alternative way to access these capabilities.
  • Add row spacing to views allowing a finger to more easily select specific documents.
  • Pay attention to the order of columns in a view to ensure important data does not scroll off the screen on a tablet.
  • Pay attention to the width assigned to columns to minimize the need of a tablet user to have to resize the columns.
  • Avoid columns that allow users to sort on columns in both ascending and descending order. Pick the most obvious ONE, or better yet don’t have dynamic column sorting.
  • Always use outlines and set the height of the entries to suit selection with a finger.
  • Consider a mobile first approach to the design of important forms. Don’t design forms as if it is necessary to fit every field on a single XGA screen. Allow space between fields and use larger fonts that are easily viewed on a 13″ (or smaller) screen.
  • Where addresses are displayed consolidate them into a single field for display and add a hotspot that links the address to a mapping application such as Google maps. (clicking on an address to get a map is a reflex action on a tablet).
Peter Presnell
Peter Presnell
CEO at Red Pill NOW. Strategist, technologist, blogger, presenter, and IBM Champion 2011/12. For years many companies have invested heavily in the Notes/Domino platform and I see my role as helping to find paths forward for that investment.


  1. Nice one Peter.
    I convinced a customer last year to opt for a Surface 3 instead of (re)developing a new browser based interface.
    They did, and people liked it.
    Your suggestions to change the interface to cope with bigger fingers are spot on.

  2. a missed opportunity to modernize your app when you simply open them on a tablet in the Notes client.

    • @Patrick, we don’t get too many requests from users of applications to “make it work with XPages”. Instead they ask for things like make it available from my tablet. If you define modernization as the process of narrowing the gap between what an application does and what its users want it to do then in the scenario in which users want to run an existing Notes application from a tablet you have modernized it.

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