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Tips for Designing a Web Site for the iPad

Apple has come out with the latest of its products to split the tech world down the middle.  Opinions about the iPad are diverse and often polarized.  For the webmaster looking to expand the reach of their web site, though, it doesn’t matter which side of the debate you find yourself on.  Like it or not, the iPad is here, and probably isn’t going away soon.

This means that you are going to have to take into account designing web sites for iPad.  Among the many technical points there are a few large-scale considerations that all webmasters should consider.

They will have it both ways

The biggest challenge from a programming perspective will be the fact that there is no natural preference in using the iPad in either portrait or landscape viewing format.  In fact, for those of you who haven’t used it yet, the iPad has orientation awareness, so when the user turns it, the web site automatically adjusts itself to its rotation.

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This represents a set of unique challenges.  First, it means that web site simplicity jumps back up the priority list.  A user who is sitting there waiting every time they turn on their iPad is going to lose patience quickly.

Second, and related to that, is that it might well be necessary to create more than one site design.  Some site layouts will not translate well to portrait, especially ones that are heavily based around having lots of information in side bars.  In nothing else, it means that the webmaster has to take both orientations into account in all of their programming.

No Flash or Java!

This one will get your attention.  The iPad runs the Safari browser.  This browser does not support plug-ins for this platform.  So if your web site is based in any way on Flash, Java, or anything else that would require a plug-in, you will need to adjust your site design to find another way to present it.  HTML5 looks to be possibly taking over a lot of the features that are currently relying on these other methods.  Seeing as how you’ll probably want to learn it anyway, using it more in your page code might be one way to prepare for these restrictions.

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The mouse has been caught

Users will not be using a mouse to navigate through your web site on this device.  They will instead be using their own fingers.  While the touch screen responsiveness and accuracy is described as being impressive, this type of browsing will require that things the user might click on be spread well apart.  Closely packed together lists of links won’t be easy to use.  Your design will likely have to change to include lots of large, hard-to-miss buttons.

Apple’s web site has extensive technical information to add to this guide: search for the phrase “iOS Human Interface Guidelines.”  There are also web sites that will preview what your site will look like on an iPad so that you don’t have to buy one.  This all may seem like a lot, but given how explosively past Apple products have taken off, it’s not unreasonable to think that the same might occur with the iPad.  If it does, you’ll want your web site to be ready for it.

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