NPR and WSJ Building iPad-Only Websites

The Wall Street Journal and National Public Radio (NPR) will be launching custom-built iPad-only websites next month when the new Apple slate computer known as the iPad is made available for sale. Both sites will automatically detect when web surfers arrive via an iPad device and will then show those visitors a special version of the site, customized exclusively for the iPad. How exactly will these sites compare to the web pages regular site visitors see? There’s just one difference: they won’t feature any Adobe Flash technology.

NPR’s New iPad Site: Entirely Flash Free

According to reports from MediaMemo, NPR is removing all traces of Adobe Flash, which powers its website’s media and graphics, from its iPad-only version. Although many news organizations use Flash to display multimedia presentations and audio and video content, NPR in particular was going to be heavily affected by Apple’s refusal to support Flash on the new iPad devices. That’s because a key feature on NPR’s website is its Flash-based audio player, something that’s featured on nearly every webpage site-wide.

Kinsey Wilson, senior vice president and general manager of NPR Digital Media, recently told Poynter that their developers decided to work around the problem by implementing an HTML5-based player instead. Wilson also noted that the company has a “launch sponsor” for the iPad-only site, since it won’t be able to support web ads, which are often coded in Flash.

WSJ: A Flash-Free Front Page

The Wall Street Journal, a News Corp. property, is also building an iPad-only version of their site – well, actually just an iPad-only front page. Unlike NPR’s iPad site, which will be 100% Flash-free, WSJ visitors who follow links deeper into the website will soon discover that not all its page have been converted. Here, they’ll run into the soon-to-be-infamous “blue box,” the lego-like symbol that appears where a Flash content should have been.

There aren’t any demos or mockups of these new websites available, so it’s unknown at this time if they’re being changed in other ways to accommodate iPad visitors. That is to say, it’s unknown if they will be exact replicas of the non-iPad versions but just with the Flash content removed, or if they will perhaps sport an entirely new design.

Start of a New Trend?

With these two leading media companies making this sort of change, it’s reasonable to imagine that others will soon follow. And while iPad owners will certainly appreciate the adjustments – that blue lego is such an eyesore, after all – the need for so many custom versions of the same site may become a burden on businesses who need to reach a wide audience.

Today, companies are already tasked with creating a traditional website, a mobile website and sometimes a customized mobile website designed just for iPhone visitors. Now there’s the iPad-only website to code for and soon there may be another one, too. Recent news reports state that Amazon is working on a new web browser just for their Kindle e-Reader. Will that be yet another website needing its own custom version?

So Many Versions of the Same Site!

It’s bad enough that the mobile application ecosystem itself is so fragmented – developers have several platforms to code for from the iPhone to Android, plus Palm, Windows Mobile – including the new Windows Phone 7 Series, Symbian and Blackberry, to name a few. Now it seems they’ll have a number of unique mobile devices to support as well?

The web was supposed to be the one unifying “platform” that works anywhere, on any device, no matter what hardware is used to access it. But thanks to varying screen sizes and differing feature sets (most notably Apple’s refusal to allow Flash on their mobile devices), those who want to provide compelling content to all their site visitors will be forced to re-code their site multiple times. Publishers without the resources to do so will have to make a tough choice – remove the unsupported content and the media that makes it slow to load on mobile devices entirely? Or leave it be and risk losing their mobile audience instead? That’s a “Sophie’s Choice” no one wants to make. Unfortunately, in a down economy where money is tight, that may be just what happens.

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