By: Richard Read – Bayshore Solutions Web Development Team

Content Changes to Adapt For iPad Web Consumption…

Web content is being consumed on an ever growing number of devices.  Just a few years ago, PCs were the go-to devices for getting your internet content.  Today, the web is being delivered via smartphones, tablet devices, TVs, set-top boxes, and game consoles.  Companies are scrambling to ensure consistent branding and styling of their content across all mediums.  This means adopting a consistent look, feel, and function among all platforms to provide an efficient means for producing content.  The introduction of the iPad has had a marked influence on web design, and with over 10 million units sold, rapid consumer adoption is an early indicator that there is a lucrative market for handheld internet consumption devices.  And internet content providers are listening.

Web Technology Shift

The most significant web technology shift we’ve seen, as a result of the iPad, has been the movement from Flash to HTML5.  On launch day in April 2010, media companies like CNN, New York Times, ESPN, MLB, and Time Magazine proclaimed their web content to be iPad-ready.  Prior to launch, their web sites employed Flash technology for rich multimedia displays and video content.  The iPad doesn’t do Flash.  But neither does the millions of web savvy iPhones that have been out in the wild for the past few years.  Why, all of a sudden was there a rush to make these sites work on a non-Flash supported device?  Especially on a device that was brand new to the marketplace, had no competitors, and was essentially creating a market where one hadn’t existed before.  Most likely it was form factor.  The iPad’s 10 inch display is ideal for web browsing, more so than our smartphone screens.  Apple has established themselves as inventors of highly innovative, user-centric consumer products.  Media companies have been swooned by the likes of these high tech products and the potential untapped profits in the internet consumption device market.  Many were eager to capitalize on one of the most anticipated consumer product launches of the year.

HTML5 – The new kid on the block

Both Google and Apple had thrown themselves firmly behind HTML5.  It wasn’t until the announcement of the iPad that it began to become a mainstream web technology.  HTML5, up to that point, had never taken off on PCs due to the overwhelming fact that Microsoft’s Internet Explorer dominated the desktop browser space for more than 60% of all internet users, and does not fully support HTML5.  It didn’t make sense for web developers to target a technology that would work on less than half of all browser traffic.  The market potential of the iPad created reason enough for large media companies to invest in this technology.

Flash isn’t going away anytime soon, but its browser plug-in mechanics are ultimately not consumer-friendly.  Plug-in technology made sense when web browsing was done primarily by computer geeks, me included.  It was a great way to extend the browser experience beyond standard HTML.  But, Grandma doesn’t want to worry about installing & updating browser plug-ins to make her favorite web site display properly.  Tomorrow’s computing devices for the masses, smartphones and tablets alike, are not for targeted for DIYers.  The lack of extensibility may not please the tech crowd, but the overwhelming majority of internet users just want a computing experience that works.

Amazon Enhances the Browsing Experience

Amazon recently launched Amazon Windowshop, an endeavor to create a digital catalog, that’s faster and more fun to browse than the traditional web site.  The web site was designed with the look and feel of its iPad counterpart.  You can flip through pages and browse categories.  The touchscreen UI elements of the iPad app have been translated to support the keyboard and mouse controls of a PC.  You can scroll through items, zoom in and out using either the mouse or the arrow keys.  It even incorporates all of the navigation controls into a small navigation pad in the lower right corner.


Twitter Redesigns Their Site

The new Twitter site clearly draws directly from the design of their iPad app in two ways.  First, it displays content in a slide out panel on the right side, where previously it would open a new browser window.  The iPad employs a single window, full screen interface, choosing to replace the contents of the current window rather than opening a new one.  Second, Twitter added an “infinite” scroll feature that will load older tweets on-the-fly as you scroll down, rather than requiring users to click the “more” button to queue up more items.  The new Twitter has essentially become a Web 2.0 desktop application running inside of a browser.

Netflix Trying To Standardize on HTML 5 Video  

Earlier this year, Netflix made the decision to use HTML5 to create the user experience for its iPhone, iPad, and Android apps.  In October, they extended this to the PS3, shifting from a physical instant streaming disc running a standalone app.  What this means is that Netflix can constantly update the way their app behaves without forcing end-users to go through the process of installing a software update every time they make a change.  The big advantage to this type of environment is that fine tuning of the user experience effectively allows limitless combinations of multivariate testing.  Netflix has yet to deploy an HTML5 implementation to the desktop browser due to its inability to secure streaming content with some type of DRM, but rumor has it that they are staffing up for such a roll out.

 

Conclusion

When the iPad was announced in January 2010, only 10% of all internet video content would have been viewable on the device.  The adoption rate of HTML5 quickly accelerated as web publishers gambled on the promise of Apple to deliver a game changing device.  Shortly after launch, users saw that the amount of video content had more than doubled, to 26%.  As of October 2010, it doubled again to 54%.

1. Stats reported by MeFeedia.com, media sharing site.

It’s interesting that a device promising to deliver the ultimate internet experience in the palm of your hand is in fact reshaping the internet.  You could argue that it’s for the better – moving sites away from proprietary formats to more open standards, and more user-friendly layouts.  As iPad sales continue to climb, and as new tablet devices enter the marketplace, like Samsung’s Galaxy Tab and the Blackberry Playbook, designers and developers will be taking cues from each of these platforms in an effort to further blur the lines between the web and traditional, installed, apps.

 

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