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Avoid Alienating iPad Users With Your ‘Flashy’ Web Site

November 19, 2010

Last Updated on - November 19, 2010  

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iPad Users

If you’re thinking of ways to take your web site to the next level and attract more business, adding lots of Flash may seem like a no-brainer. But incorporating large doses of this technology into your site could get in the way of reaching mobile device users – especially those who have touch screen products like the iPad.

The Flash Dilemma

In case you haven’t heard already, there is a so-called “Flash war” going on between two technology giants: Apple Inc., maker of the popular iPad, iPhone and iPod, and Adobe Systems Inc., which owns Flash, a technology used to add video, animation and other fancy elements to web pages. The disagreement revolves around whether Flash is a suitable technology for mobile devices like the ones Apple sells.

Flash is well known for making your site look really pretty, and there are many companies out there that have invested a huge chunk of money in some very slick web sites replete with movie-like animations, in a bid to impress and influence current and potential clients while showcasing their products or brands. Many web site owners see these sites and immediately start thinking about how a Flash-based redesign could make their own sites look more dynamic and cutting-edge, and how products advertised in a “flashy” way could help drum up more business.

But as it stands, Apple – which, by the way, is notorious for its very cool-looking and functioning products – doesn’t allow Flash on its iPads, iPhones or iPod touches. In fact, in an open letter, Apple’s CEO Steve Jobs has listed a number of reasons the company considers Flash irrelevant for its devices. One of them is that Flash is “designed for PCs using mice, not for touch screens using fingers.”

Flash and Touch Screens

Unfortunately, this is true. Flash, by its very nature, is meant for a computer that has a mouse attached to it, which enables you to hover over something and then click when you find what you’re looking for. Touch screens, such as the one found on the iPad, don’t work that way. There is no “hover” function on a touch screen; it only recognizes touch.

Therefore, some fundamental Flash-based functions that require hovering just cannot work on a touch screen. For example, a drop-down menu that requires you to hover over one item on the menu so you can reveal another sub-menu item won’t function properly. Neither will a video player that requires you to hover over the video in order to see and use the controls (Play/Pause/Stop).

Business Case for Moving Away from Flash

Various recent media reports have suggested that since some Flash-driven web sites do not work well on Apple’s mobile devices, some companies may have to construct new – or alternate – sites that run on other iPad-friendly multimedia technology.

That can get really expensive. But those companies may not have any other choice, considering how Apple’s iPad and other products have been performing in the market lately.

For its fiscal fourth quarter 2010, Apple reported the highest quarterly earnings and revenue in the company’s history – and according to the company’s chief financial officer Peter Oppenheimer, that growth was fueled in good part by “record iPhone sales (and) the tremendous popularity of iPad.” Research firm Gartner Inc. also recently predicted that the iPad would be the primary driver behind the growth of worldwide media tablet sales to end users from 2010 through 2014, and that as prices drop, tablet devices would increasingly be pushed into the mainstream and would eventually become a popular item in the home.

Other Multimedia Options

So, as an Internet business owner, if you don’t want to alienate this important and growing base of mobile touch-screen device users, resist the temptation to demand that your web site company create a purely Flash-driven site for you.

That’s not to say you can’t incorporate bits and pieces of Flash into your site. There’s nothing wrong with adding a little Flash here and there to spice things up. It’s just not recommended that you base your whole web site, or any crucial functions (like your menu) on the technology. If you do, your site may look absolutely beautiful, but you’ll frustrate a whole lot of people who can’t see what you’re trying to show them – which could cost you business in the long run.

If you really want a web site that is rich in animation, there are other, more iPad-friendly technologies like HTML5, CSS and jQuery that can do the trick. Just ask your web site company; the experts there will be able to give you the scoop on what will work best for your site.

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