How the iPhone will influence Web apps, design

It’s tiring to keep considering the impact Apple’s iPhone will have on the wireless experience, especially when they’re not even available in Canada. But the truth is, much as we hate to succumb to the hype, its effect will go well beyond increasing iTunes traffic.

Seeing the success of the iPhone, smart phone manufacturers are rethinking their designs (if not the functionality of their devices). Case in point: the recently launched Touch by HTC, which mimics the iPhone’s all-screen form factor and three-dimensional touchscreen interface.

The user experience is decidedly Windows Mobile, though, which means sheafs of menus and lots of stylus work. The iPhone has changed expectations, and future iterations of competitive smart phones will surely reflect that.

But the real problem lies not in the inelegance of the smart phone interface, but on the other side of the connection. Your garden variety Web site just doesn’t work well with a handheld device.

The real estate is limited on a handheld, and making the most of it hasn’t been a priority consideration. The experience is often one of lengthy scrolls, tiny links and active areas, and considerable waits. This is not what a generation of iPhone users will expect.

They will expect the fly-through experience of choosing media on their phone to be applied to other online apps as well. Active areas will have to become larger, button-sized squares to accommodate fingers instead of styluses. Site architecture will have to become flatter — users will be more comfortable flipping through a page with many options than drilling down further into what are essentially sub-menus. And somehow it’s all got to be delivered faster, since the 3G experience can grate on the patience of those used to broadband connectivity.

Sounds like redesigning to suit one particular product, doesn’t it? But the fact is, industry watchers pretty much agree that wireless use of the Internet will surpass desktop use — even if they can’t agree on when — and the iPhone is going a long way to accelerate that sea change. Users will expect a better experience than they have now.

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