with the iPad as the new contender in the space between smartphones and laptops, it will be interesting to see how application designers perceive the iPad as a platform. for netbooks, it was clear that applications were very likely the same as on laptops, as the netbook inherits a lot of the characteristics of a laptop: no instant-on or instant-off, for example.
the iPad hardware and platform is very nicely engineered, and i don't want to go into the details of apple's closed model and the fact that everything has to go through the app store. what i am interested in for this post is just the question of what application designers will do with this new platform, and what we might be able to learn from that.
iPad Human Interface Guidelines (paywalled but nicely summarized here) make pretty clear that the iPad is perceived by apple mostly as a giant iPhone: applications should be designed in a way that emphasizes the mobile settings users are probably in. there is more sophistication that designers can play with (more pixels for graphical design, for example), but everything else reads more or less exactly like developing for an iPhone. there is nothing wrong with these guidelines, i am just wondering how much they will influence/guide designers to think about the settings and situations iPad users will be in.
in a recent IBM research report (
No Smart Phone Is an Island: The Impact of Places, Situations, and Other Devices on Smart Phone Use by Tara Matthews, Jeffrey Pierce and John Tang), there is a very interesting study of the impact of places and situations on smartphone use. looking at this distinct difference of how people use these devices (in this study, smartphones and laptops), and remembering how in apple's keynote there was this very pronounced focus on somebody sitting in their armchair leisurely using an iPad, i am asking myself how well the iPhone-derived guidelines correspond with how people might actually use the device.
i just don't see people, at least not exclusively, not even mainly, walking around with iPad like their phones, using them in the same situations, places, and patterns. instead, they might rather sit down on a bench, in a cafe, in the train, and use the device more extensively, in a more laptop-like way.
so what i am wondering about: to be a success as a platform, will the iPad require applications to be designed for these two different
modes? or asking differently: iPhone application designers often do a great job designing for people on the go. laptop application designers often do a great job designing for people in stationary settings. what will iPad application designers do, and what should they do? will iPad applications have two
modes, maybe even automatically switching between them based on sensor data?
it seems to me that this new
device in the middle might actually see its biggest challenge in the application designer's choice to design a mobile application, a stationary application, or some hybrid. and this applies to native applications as well as to web-based applications: if i visit a site with my iPad, you better do not redirect me to your iPhone site, that would not be a very pleasant user experience. but do i really want to use the laptop-oriented site, either? will that one even be touch-friendly?
designers of native as well as of web-based applications will have to struggle with the same issues: is the iPad essentially a smartphone, or is it a tablet? it's both, and adapting to that in a way that does not produce something that is not really good in either setting, but instead adapts or is able to support both settings well, that will be a really interesting design challenge for the near future. there are no real conclusions here, but i am definitely looking forward to how designers will handle these challenges, and it will be interesting to see which patterns can be derived from the applications that are dealing with these design challenges better than others.
it'll be interesting to see how the landscape of web technologies reacts. there's the new System Information API, there are CSS Media Queries, and generally speaking, web technologies and frameworks that better understand the environment they are used in will make a big difference in this new and more varied world of web clients. this does not make the UX or UI challenges much easier, but it will allow to build applications that are better able to deal with these challenges.