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What the Apple Tablet Means for the Web

Evan Maier

Evan Maier

At this point, chances are you’ve heard of the Apple tablet. Sure, it doesn’t officially exist yet (that will assuredly change tomorrow). But with seemingly every news source on the planet  reporting on it, not to mention every Apple fanboy reigniting pre-iPhone era fervor about the unreleased device, its more than unlikely that even the most oblivious consumers out there don’t even vaguely know about Apple’s plans to revolutionize the computing industry once again.

While each of these news sources waxes poetic on how the device will change the publishing industry, education, and home life, one question still remains: how will it change the web as we know it? I, of course, don’t have any answers. But a little more speculation never hurt anyone, right?

When the iPhone debuted in 2007, it was a revelation. Not that the masses hadn’t seen a smartphone before (or, more importantly, a smartphone with a touchscreen). Somehow, though, it arrived as a “game changer;” seeming to those mouth-foaming consumers as the basis against which all other smartphones would be judged.

In time, the device grew its fanbase beyond the Apple fanboys, tech geeks, and early adopters who were predestined to be fans and the iPhone was deemed “a hit.” Like their wildly popular iPod before it, Apple achieved success through mainstream adoption.

But while the iPod asked music fans to simply upload their existing CDs to their computer and get to know a new piece of software (hardly a ground-shaking request), the iPhone asked a lot more of its adopters. Users were being asked to learn to trust an adaptable, app-based  UI (common now, but still fresh from the womb in 2007), to leave behind the old, familiar computers when looking for internet on the go, and, most importantly, to do it all on a device basically without buttons.

To make the switch easier, a lot of websites offered updated mobile versions to their readers on the now ubiquitous iPhone. These were essentially touch-friendly feeds without the pretty wrapping paper.

But while this quick fix was perfect for a device whose screen is no bigger than a credit card, it hardly works for what is rumored to be a gorgeous 10″ touch display. While the tablet’s mechanics will most likely still be the same as those found on the iPhone  (multi-touch interface, mostly buttonless hardware, icon-based navigation, etc.), users will be expecting more than just “a big iPhone.” So what will inevitably change to bring the web up to the iTablet’s standard?

A Web You Can Touch

Right now on the iPhone, interaction with the web is limited to the basic functions of the mouse: scroll up/down/left/right and click links. With a tablet offering multi-touch screen real estate capable of two-handed interaction, we can all move beyond the mouse paradigm. Imagine sites designed to be touched. I’m not talking about bigger buttons or larger link text, but websites with which you can actually interact. Movable elements, a better utilization of graphics and icons (much like a lot of iPhone apps currently work), and a new way of site navigation (beyond the old “click, new page, repeat” concept) are just some of the new possibilities almost required by Apple’s impending tablet.

A Bigger Cloud

Today, consumers have two choices when wanting their media to come with them: lug your laptop or decide which songs or movies are iPhone worthy. It’s safe to say Apple hopes the tablet will nestle itself comfortably in the middle of these two camps, but with its hard drive capacity almost certainly smaller than what consumers have come to expect out of their computers, how will Apple address the conundrum of supply and demand?

The answer is: “the cloud,” the term techies have coined to describe the servers that provide access to data or files on the go. Recently, we’ve seen some of the best examples of the cloud come from media-streaming services like LaLa  (for music) and Netflix (for movies and TV shows). While these services are not accessible on one’s iPhone, imagine accessing a Tablet-friendly version of Netflix to watch a movie when stuck at the airport for a longer-than-expected layover or enjoying access to your entire music library without filling your Tablet’s comparably smaller hard drive. The cloud makes it possible, and if Apple wants their Tablet to find its niche between the all-encompassing laptop and the more convenient iPhone, web developers will need to rely heavily on the cloud.

Where’s the Scroll Bar?

In their current state, websites are long. Really long. And that’s just traditional websites. Taking into consideration the predominance of blogs, whose formats are akin to a Greek philosopher’s scroll, you’ve got a considerable amount of content to display. Needless to say, the average consumer isn’t going to be thrilled with grabbing and flicking such long websites (as we currently have to do on a smaller scale on the iPhone) on a magazine-sized display. As such, websites will need to adapt to single-page format to make their sites tablet-friendly. Imagine how the magazine and newspaper publishers are envisioning their content presented on the tablet, and you’ll start to get the idea.

How do you see Apple’s tablet changing the web as we know it? Let your predictions be heard in the comments!