How the iPad will change web design

Apple’s iPad has been out for 5 months now and already it has achieved household-name status.  Apple sold 3 million of the devices in the first 80 days.  Instantly, Apple owned the tablet computer market and became the company to beat in mobile devices.

So what does this new device mean for web designers?  Designing for mobile is certainly nothing new. But designing for iPad is not exactly like traditional mobile.  First off, the screen resolution is the same as many laptops.  So unlike with a Smartphone, you’re going to get a richer experience just by being able to consume an entire page at one time.

Apple changed the mobile browser world with the iPhone.  Mobile Safari was the first browser on a phone to really act like a desktop browser.  Sure it required a lot of pinching and zooming to fully take in a whole page, but it was there.  But there was still the perception that, because I’m viewing this page on a phone, I’m willing to give the site a little bit of leeway in how it renders.  That is, I feel lucky to be consuming this content at all from a phone, so if a banner or form here and there doesn’t work, I’ll just revisit when I’m back at my desk.

With the iPad, I think this forgiveness is greatly diminished.  Here we have a device that is truly caught between two worlds.  It bears the same mobile browser as it’s iPhone cousin, but renders it at a size and speed that rivals desktop browsers.  Now when iPad browsers encounter a site that is incompatible, the perception isn’t that “I’m on a mobile device and I’ll have to wait until I’m back at my desk” it’s that “The designer of this site hasn’t taken the time to make this content available to me.”

I know at SAS, we aren’t off the hook just because we aren’t B-to-C.  The iPad is getting considerable traction in the business and education world.  And more devices similar to the iPad are in the pipeline and will continue to gain popularity.  Taking small steps now will ensure that your site will be ready for these devices.  Steps like: try to opt for open standards over closed ones; makes sure your code is standards-compliant and not targeting only one specific browser, even if that browser has a significant lead among your visitors today; and test your site on multiple devices.

As technologies advance, perceptions will continue to shift about mobile browsing.  Web designers will be forced to replicate the same desktop browsing experience on all devices. It doesn’t mean  you have to redesign your site with fat-finger-sized buttons, but making sure that the browsing experience on mobile devices (especially those like the iPad) is a good one, could save you and your visitors a lot of trouble down the road.

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