Wednesday, March 31, 2010

iPad Web Applications

So you might have heard about this... This Saturday, April 3, there's a new computer coming out from Apple. You might have heard about it. Anyways, lots of iPhone developers have been scrambling to port their iPhone apps or write new iPad apps. A lot of folks have been predicting that developers would start to shun Apple after all of the controversies surrounding iPhone app submissions and the "walled garden" approach that Apple has taken. On the other hand, Microsoft has decided that a controversial walled gardens are once again the way to go, and is diligently copying Apple. Well if the iPad is any indicator, developers continue to agree with Apple and Microsoft. There is a lot of interest in developing native applications for the iPad.

Still, if you're like me and a big part of your job is to figure out how to build web applications for all kinds of devices, you have probably been spending a lot of time trying to figure out what to do about the iPad. On one hand, it's a big enough device that most websites will look just fine on it.

I think you must agree that the above looks a heck of a lot better than a "mobile optimized" site like this:

This seems great at first -- no work! Just make sure that if you are using any browser sniffing/redirecting code that it does not redirect for the iPad. However, there are some disadvantages to this. First, there are some issues with 'normal' sites that will not translate well to the iPad. There is the obvious thing with Flash... There are more subtle things like, "hovers", i.e. mouse-overs. That is when you toss up a UI layer when a user hovers their mouse over a link, or an image, or whatever. These are pretty popular, and they are not going to work on the iPad. Apple has quite figured out how to detect a finger hover... There are other events that are different on the iPad as well. There is also the question of how to best use the real-estate on the device, and the related question of dealing with landscape mode.
I think a lot of sites will look great in landscape mode, but that doesn't mean that they couldn't look better. It might be more optimal to go to a multi-column layout. That could let a site place useful content "above the fold", i.e. visible so the user does not have to scroll to get to it.

There's also the possibility of "embracing the native" on the web. There are a lot of iPhone-optimized websites that do a good job of making their website look and feel like a native iPhone application. Joe Hewitt's excellent iUi JS/CSS framework is an easy way to do this. The iPad has some of its own metaphors not found in the iPhone. Take a look at this native iPad app:

Notice all of those columns? We've kind of touched on that already. Did you notice the pop-over menus? These are likely to be ubiquitous on the iPad. Here is a picture of them from one of Apple's iPad apps, Numbers:
Obviously there is nothing in HTML-land that is quite like that. However, it is certainly possible to craft something similar. In a way, it's kind of like the mouse-over menus that are popular on the web, only the interaction model is slightly different and the UI is definitely more rich than the average mouse-over menu.

So what to do? Just stick with your "normal" site? Develop an iPad optimized site? Tweak your iPhone-optimized site to suck less on the iPad? Tweak your normal site to suck less on the iPad?


voip news said...

Content of your post really impressive and i will share this to my friends and students.

ethan said...

This type of software and techniques I am searching for building new web apps for iPad for co-operative use. As I spend my most of time in making websites and trying new platforms this tips will help me to get better one as per my skills. Thank you for sharing this.