Even though the iPad appears to be a device for Apple fans, gadget freaks, tech savvy consumers, etc., it is already positioned to have a significant impact on the nature and shape of corporate websites. The adoption and growth rate of specialized content consumption devices such as Smart Phones, Tablets, and Net Books can no longer be simply ignored. B2B and especially B2C companies need to ensure that their websites not just “function” on the iPad and other similar devices but they must provide a good user experience. Just as higher bandwidths and more powerful computers once changed static websites forever the new content consumption devices are positioned to do the same again. The buzz around the iPad and its successful launch means that any future website planning and upgrades need to keep the new realities in mind.
Perhaps the most talked about aspect of the iPad browsing has been lack of support for the Adobe Flash. Apple CEO Steve Jobs has termed Flash buggy, a CPU hog, and a security risk. Regardless of whether you agree with Jobs or not, recent trends in website design and development do point towards less Flash usage for various reasons. HTML 5 is being touted as the new replacement and many key companies and websites have already adopted it. Therefore any decision to use Flash or to continue supporting existing Flash applications should be weighted carefully. Many major websites like WSJ, NPR, USA Today, and NYT are doing away with Flash and taking a dual approach of providing the iPad optimized apps and rolling out new Flash-less websites.
Still common among corporate websites are the slide out menus that require constant cursor presence which makes for not so friendly experience for the finger based navigation. Touch interfaces are rapidly gaining in popularity and are no longer limited to Smart Phones and Tablets, some of the newer laptops also support them. Another implication of touch interface is that links that are too small or too close to each other make it difficult for users to click them and create a frustrating user experience. The ever shrinking size of buttons and links now needs to be reconsidered and their placement must also be rethought. Touch is here to stay and sites need to evolve to ensure they are “touch” friendly.
In the days immediately following Netscape’s collapse, Internet Explorer became the king of browsers and any corporate website needed only to be tested with 2 or 3 versions of Internet Explorer. Since then FireFox, Chrome, and Safari have gained significant market share, and any updates to the corporate website must once again be tested against a plethora of browsers. Safari has hitched a ride with the iPhone and the iPad and therefore requires special consideration in ensuring that the corporate website renders and functions well. However, browsers no longer hold a monopoly on being the sole interface to the internet content. The rise of proprietary apps providing customized experience means now there is a challenger to the mighty browser. Major media sites like NYT, WSJ, BBC, etc. all have rolled out their iPhone and iPad apps which provide a highly controlled experience outside of the browser.
The iPad’s larger screen provides an excellent full-page browsing experience. However, number of sites treat the iPad as a mobile client and serve up the mobile version of the web-site. In most cases user can click on the full-site link and access the standard website but that is cumbersome to the users. Websites now need to differentiate between smaller mobile clients where limited mobile version of the website makes sense and newer larger content consumption devices like the iPad where nothing but the full-site will do. Needless to say the iPad and other similar devices are creating a new reality and the corporate websites need to take notice or risk being considered old and obsolete.