As usual, Apple’s newest creation has produced opinions. The rhetoric of those for and against it is predictably strong and, occasionally, ridiculous. I don’t care to add my voice to the din. My attention is more fixated on the fact that if the iPad is successful, we’ll have to say goodbye to a whole host of assumptions as we say “hello” to a new era of touch computing. What does this mean for web designers?
Goodbye Mouse, Hello Hands
How much of your site depends on mouse hover states? Hopefully none, if you’re committed to accessibility. But, chances are there are parts that labour under the assumption that everyone is—and always will be—using a mouse. If touch computing replaces the mouse + keyboard paradigm that’s dominant today, there’s going to be a lot of scurrying to retrofit websites to be usable by folks getting their hands on your site. I know that I’m not going to make anything rely on mouse hover states from here on out.
But that’s merely a technical hurdle. There’s a fundamental difference between an interaction with your screen mediated by a mouse and reaching out and touching something. Your website will no longer have clicks; it will have users touching, pinching, swiping, rotating. In short, the touch experience is flush with potential for a richer, more textured interaction paradigm in our websites. Touch might be as large a paradigm shift beyond today’s web as the web has been over print.
Goodbye Landscape, Hello Portrait
Computer monitors have always had a landscape orientation. This has only become more prominent in recent years as we moved from ubiquitous 4:3 ratios to various widescreen formats. In short, we’ve had ample width and short heights. (Thus the religious wars over “the fold.”)
But here we have a 3:4 orientation. Portrait. Does portrait encourage vertical scanning instead of horizontal? What does it mean to relax about how high on the page our central content is? How many assumptions about how the web works do we have that are based on the landscape orientation?
You might wish to inform me that the screen can just as easily be used in landscape, but my money’s on people using it in portrait more often than not. But even that ability to choose has big implications for our assumptions about designing for the web.
Goodbye Flash, Hello Web Standards
More importantly, web standards can do 100% of the desirable things that Flash can do. Those technologies aren’t yet supported by every browser, but they are supported by Safari, and that’s all that matters here. And are you really going to miss those punch a monkey banner ads?
The two things preventing Flash’s demise are 1) momentum and 2) authoring tools. The former is shifting thanks to the iPhone and iPad, and the latter is bound to change.
Goodbye Fringe, Hello Mainstream
Browsing on the iPhone can be frustrating when the content you’re looking for is all Flash. Other times the site has simply been overly optimized for the desktop and/or Internet Explorer. Some may blame the device, but as the iPhone continues to grow and the iPad emerges, it’ll be business suicide to have a poor experience in the mobile sector. Let’s face it — users with enough money to spend on an iPhone and/or an iPad are exactly the types of people that most businesses want to appeal to.
In short, web designers who understand how to design good web experiences for these platforms will only become more sought after. And this just might allow me to justify an iPad as a business expense.