iPad, iAd and Me

Reynold Greenlaw

As of yet the iPad is not available to buy in the UK, but should you be thinking about it? If you have a public-facing web site, you might be wondering, Do I need an iPad version of my site? How will I deliver content without Adobe Flash? Do I need an iPad app?

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Because the iPad can display full pages at close to the size of a laptop or desktop screen, there is no need for a specific version of the site for the iPad the way there is for a phone like the iPhone. Instead, it should be cost-effective to tweak an existing site to display well in the iPad The main difference will be that hover effects, small link targets, and and small text will not work well with fingertips. So we predict a fashion for less cluttered, fatter-linked, iPad-friendly designs in mainstream web pages.

The big deal for sites showing video, menus, or slide shows using Adobe Flash is that the iPad does not, and will not, display Flash (or indeed use any plug-ins at all). But it's more than that: the upcoming iAd system, where Apple hosts ads for display in iPad and iPhone apps, is implemented using HTML5.

The demonstration in the iPhone OS 4 event showed their vision of ads resembling the mini-sites that are today often implemented with Flash (downloadable wallpapers, video clips, character notes, and all that jazz). When iAd takes off, advertisers will be thinking that if the iAd is in HTML5, then the main web site might as well be as well.

All of which is lighting a fire under HTML5 support on the web as a whole. If your site is aimed at people at home, then you will want to support iPad readers, and you will need an HTML5-savvy web site. YouTube and other video-hosting sites already offer an HTML5 alternative; it seems that in future HTML5 will be mainstream and Flash will be the alternative for legacy browsers.

Sites aimed and education, government, and corporate users will be under less pressure to transition to HTML5: they are more likely to be read on a conventional computer, and Microsoft's failure to persuade IT departments to upgrade from IE6 means that HTML5 will only reach a minority of readers.

The biggest problem with replacing Flash with HTML is that we don't yet have designer-friendly tools like those Adobe sell for Flash: you need a collaboration between designers and programmers. At OCC, we are building our HTML5 and our design expertise, and have been producing dynamic HTML interfaces rather than Flash for some time now in anticipation of this transition.

The question of whether you want to create an iPad app for your site is a more complicated. There is a lot of experimentation happening right now with content delivery through specialized apps: the New York Times and other publications are selling apps that they hope provide a more compelling reading experience than their web site can.

The problem is that an iPad app will only run on iPad: it has to be extra work, using a different programming environment, over and above the work on a web site (or whatever) -- and in the end, it will only reach a minority of readers for the next few years. The iPad platform would be very attractive for vertical applications (e.g., electronic patients notes for hospitals) but in many cases cheaper and less desirable hardware will be preferred. The successful apps to date are games (which are multi-platform as a matter of course) and productivity apps from small firms that specialize in app development.

So for most of our existing customers I would wait and see how the app market turns out. Our customers' video sites are aimed mostly at education and commercial sectors, where the transition to HTML video is not at all urgent, so the only action required in the short term will be glancing at their existing site in an iPad to verify that its design works in the new screen size and with fingers instead of a mouse.