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The iPad Has Landed: Should You Roll Out Your Web Site's Welcome Mat?

By Erika Morphy MacNewsWorld ECT News Network
Apr 5, 2010 5:00 AM PT

Apple recently cited a handful of iPad-friendly Web sites -- a small list that includes CNN, Reuters, the New York Times, Vimeo and the White House.

The iPad Has Landed: Should You Roll Out Your Web Site's Welcome Mat?

With the iPad buzz having reached dizzying heights, it is safe to assume that most everyone who has a Web site is at least thinking about how to render it iPad-friendly as well.

It may be surprising to some that it can be done in one afternoon, depending on the complexity of the site.

When the iPad was first unveiled two months ago, the student journalists and media staff of Abilene Christian University's student newspaper, the Optimist, decided to optimize the site for the iPad as well as develop an app for it.

Once they figured out what needed to be done, it took about an afternoon to actually complete, said Susan Lewis, assistant professor of journalism and mass communication at the university.

The app, still pending approval, is fed by the newspaper Web site's database. To make it iPad friendly, "we had to temporarily disable all of our videos," Lewis told MacNewsWorld. "Then we had to remove all of the Flash elements from the Web site."

It wasn't quite as easy as it sounds, she added. Apple rejected the app twice because the videos were not playing properly. After the second rejection, the student staff realized they had to disable the videos.

When people start using their iPads on Saturday, the paper -- now just text and photos -- will render properly, Lewis explained.

The Trouble With Flash

It is hardly surprising that the university's sticking point was video. It's well known that Flash is anathema to Apple.

Scrubbing all video is not feasible for many Web sites, especially e-commerce operations, where video is often integral, said Jeff Whatcott, SVP of marketing at Brightcove.

Brightcove just unveiled its Brightcove Experience for HTML5, a video publishing tool that works using the common Internet protocol HTML5.

The application makes it possible for a site to become iPad-ready without having to do a lot of customization, Whatcott told MacNewsWorld. "Video will be viewable on both devices like the iPad that only support HTML5, as well as devices like desktops that support Flash."

Without it, one would have to develop two separate sites or do a lot of tricky custom development -- such as coding the video in the proper format in addition to coding for Flash, he said. A site would also have to develop a custom playback player template and write the code so the site detects whether a person is coming from an iPad.

Testing for the iPhone

Apple is providing some guidance to Web site developers that want to optimize their sites for the iPad. Safari on iPad uses the same WebKit layout engine as Safari on Mac OS X and Windows, it said, which means sites can test their sites for the iPad -- as well as even develop touch-enabled Web features -- by using the iPhone Simulator.

Plenty of Plug-Ins

There's also been a recent flurry of iPad plug-ins to aid Web site administrators, Charles King, principal at Pund-IT, told MacNewsWorld.

However, it may not be advisable to make significant investments in retooling Web sites, cautioned King -- at least, not until various strategies and tools have been more thoroughly tested.

"The iPad seems to be a device primarily developed for content consumption -- but how good it is for content creation remains to be seen," he remarked.

There are other considerations besides the technology, Greg Sterling, principal of Sterling Market Intelligence, told MacNewsWorld.

For example, if a site thinks a significant enough number of its visitors will be coming from an iPad, the larger screen size may have an impact on design considerations.

Investing a great deal of money on a tech rehab is probably not a good idea right now, though, said Sterling.

"What is fascinating about the iPad is no one is quite sure who will be using it or how," he said. It may be that most will stick with the apps and content specially designed for the iPad and not spend a lot of time surfing the Web.

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