GCD Blog

Andrew Gough

9th Mar 2012

The new iPad brings a new challenge for web designers

Once again, one of Apple’s products is pushing the boundaries of how we use the web.

The “new iPad” may be more of an evolution than a revolution, but it has one feature that has the potential to wreak havoc for web designers: a screen resolution of 2048 x 1536 pixels. Compared to the iPad 2, that’s twice the detail horizontally and twice vertically.

We’ve already seen how influential Apple can be for web design through their boycotting of Flash. Since the first iPhone was launched in 2007, Apple have steadfastly refused to support Adobe’s once mighty plug-in.  Since then there’s been a huge swing from Flash to HTML5 in everything from banner ads to video to interactive games.

The new iPad features the same retina display technology that was introduced with the iPhone 4 in 2010. Back then, app designers had to adapt to the new pixel density by creating two sets of images for all of the graphical elements – one at standard size and one that was twice that size. But because of the iPhone’s screen size, this pixel doubling didn’t have a major effect on website design.

However the size of the iPad screen makes its pixel density hard to ignore. Users will get accustomed to seeing crisp displays on native apps, and are likely to be disappointed with the less perfect appearance of images and logos on non- retina optimised web pages.

This begs the question: will web designers have to start producing two sets of images for every web graphic they design? Apple.com are already using JavaScript to detect the pixel density of screens and serve larger image sizes to higher density screens.

If so, it’s going to raise a lot of practical problems for web designers’ workflow. As well as the amount of time it’ll take to rework existing sites to look good on the new iPad, it may be difficult to track down the original artwork in high enough quality.

Just because the new iPad can serve high quality images and video doesn’t mean that it automatically should. For example, would a user on slow Wi-Fi or 3G be willing to endure slow load times to download the increased page sizes?

And of course, that raises the problem of excessive bandwidth costs – both in terms of data usage for the user and in terms of hosting for the website owner.

With the new iPad set for release on 16 March, we’re keen find out what level of demand there will be for retina-optimised websites.

 

* Image from bangdoll @ Flickr

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