Tablets are pretty wonderful things. They let you work from planes, trains and buses, watch movies anywhere, enjoy games on the go and casually surf the Internet on the sofa instead of having meaningful conversations with your wife. You can also boast about how awesome they are to your friends. Yes, they are wonderful indeed and every technology company on the face of the planet is now scrambling for a piece of the market, bitterly trading blows in a war of dominance that’s going to leave us trapped in the middle.
For the consumer, this war is undoubtedly a good thing, enticing and encouraging competition and creating a selection of products and features that ultimately giving us more choice and freedom. After a few years of supremacy, the growth of Android and the introduction of Amazon’s Kindle Fire are finally threatening the untouchable status of the iPad and cracking open the marketplace for all to behold. When it comes to geeking out over new gadgets, technology wars are great.
when it comes to geeking out over new gadgets, technology wars are great
For the web professional though, the inevitable rise of the tablet is going to raise a lot of questions and potentially challenge the way we all design and develop. Will Flash make a come back if the iPad’s popularity dips? Will the new iOS 5 reader feature in Safari kill off online advertising? Will Silk, the new Kindle Fire browser, be standards compliant and will its cloud acceleration cause problems and privacy issues? And, on a much larger and general scale, how will the increasing use of tablet computing affect the way we design and build sites and online apps as a whole?
Web development is more than just building web sites for desktop browsers
One of the reasons I’ve always loved the Internet is because of its ubiquitous nature and the fact that it extends beyond a single device or OS. Unlike conventional software, web sites (at least in a distorted sense) exist in some sort of ethereal dimension, accessibly by anyone and anything and aren’t chained to a particular device or operation system. Previously this meant dealing with differences in the likes of monitor resolutions and operating systems (Window’s font rendering, anyone?) but now it means so much more. Now we have to deal with radically altering dimensions of screen real estate, mobile download speeds, touch screen controls and specific device usability.
All of these considerations were kicked off with the introduction of the smart phone but now have been tremendously exacerbated by the tablet. People actually expect to be able to fully and properly use any web site on a tablet, shopping, banking and browsing as they please and as mobile and tablet Internet viewing increases, it’s going to become more and more important to consider when designing and building an online platform.
The increasing importance of design, usability and smart development
Anyone who owns a tablet will certainly have encountered web sites that just aren’t particularly accessible or usable. Some of them look ugly as hell, some are difficult to use and others just plain don’t work very well, a surprising number of them big names and brands. For me this is a frustration, no doubt for other tablet-addicted-surfers it’s a complete turn off.
So I think we’re going to see some big changes over the next few years in the way the web industry approaches it work. Considerations like responsive design, properly tablet tested usability and even things like highly optimised caching to help deal with mobile download limitations will become hugely important and potentially cause damage to the customer base if not implemented correctly. Sure, right now, few people actually try to shop online with a tablet but in five years time I’m betting it will be a given and that responsive, tablet optimised designs and interactions will be a necessity for any major player.
The future looks incredible (on a 9.7-inch LED-backlit glossy widescreen touch screen)
It’s entirely possible that tablets will turn out to be a flash in the pan fad, replaced by another more convenient and advanced piece of technology just like the LaserDisc, MiniDisc, and zip drive (remember those?). But I’m betting that they won’t. They are just far too useful and have made far too much of impact to be anything other than an extraordinary revolution in the way we work, play, communicate and, of course, surf the Internet. Plus I highly doubt renowned companies like Apple, Amazon, Google, Microsoft and Samsung would be warring over the marketplace if they didn’t think it was here to stay.
And whilst these devices themselves present a step forward in technology and convenience, they are also impacting everything around them, from social networking and interpersonal interactions to entertainment, gaming and, of course, the Internet. The simple truth is that the growing number of people viewing web sites through smaller, touch enabled screens is going to have a big impact on the way we create web sites and expect to view them. Everything is set to change and, personally I find it all rather exciting.