Webvanta Blog: Creating Effective Websites

What Does the iPad Mean for Web Design?

Browsers have always been the primary driver of the technologies and techniques that are available to web designers. In recent years, mobile browsers have entered the fray, adding not only new, tiny screen sizes but also new sets of technology constraints.

The iPad adds a new twist to the complex and evolving set of targets that web designers need to aim for. It is sort-of a mobile device, but it is more like a laptop than a phone. The 1024 × 768 screen size supports the same layouts as we’ve all been creating for the desktop, and the usage pattern is likely to be more like a desktop device than a phone; we won’t see many people whipping out their iPad as they walk down the street to look up an address.

The Best Way to Experience the Web?

But there is one critical way in which the iPad is like a mobile device: it is a non-extensible browser. It doesn’t support plug-ins, and this has one huge implication: no Flash. This makes Apple’s claim of the iPad being ‘the best way to experience the web’ simply untrue.

Love it or hate it, the reality is that Flash is a significant part of the Web today, and a browser that doesn’t support it does not provide a full-featured web experience.

Why has Apple refused to support Flash? Theories abound, and no one who really knows is talking. Apple’s stated reason is that Flash is too buggy and resource intensive. Some people believe that it is to protect the App Store, because Flash-based applications could be delivered for free in the browser. Others think that Apple is using its leverage to drive Flash out of the Web.

Proprietary Is Bad, Unless It’s Mine

There is a certain irony in the most proprietary of all modern computer companies rejecting a web technology because it is proprietary. Apple loves proprietary technology—as long as it doesn’t belong to a company other than themselves.

I think Apple is wrong not to support Flash on the iPad. But what you and I think clearly doesn’t matter a great deal to Apple; they have a vision, they pursue it passionately, and it has served them pretty well. And despite my beef with them not supporting Flash on the iPad, I absolutely want one, and so, I think, will lots of other people.

A Force Against Flash

Which brings us back to the question: what does the iPad mean for web design? For better or worse, I think it means less use of Flash.

If you’re designing a site and could use Flash or JavaScript for a certain effect—for example, an animated intro at the top of the home page—the iPad provides one more reason not to use Flash. If the iPad sells well, this will become a big force against Flash.

There are plenty of standards advocates who will be perfectly happy with this outcome. The biggest drawback to using HTML5 and JavaScript instead of Flash is the lack of a good interactive authoring environment. Perhaps this is the future of Adobe’s Flash authoring software?

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