Apple made a big deal about the iPad mini providing an uncompromised iPad experience for users, and it’s standing by that by making it impossible for web developers to detect whether a web page is being read on an iPad or an iPad mini. Usually, devices provide a means with which developers can determine physical screen size, allowing them to create different wrappers for web content depending on what screen they’re being viewed on. Apple has made sure that’s not an option with the iPad mini, in an interesting move that’s very much in keeping with the company’s aims with the new, smaller tablet.
The inability to detect the Mini’s screen size is what a thread on Hacker News today uncovered, and what I spoke to iPad-friendly web content formatting company Onswipe about in an interview. The Onswipe guys echoed what I already suspected: Apple wants to do this in order to keep the web experience across iPads (both Mini and regular) consistent. The company stressed during its iPad mini launch event that it was “every inch an iPad,” and emphasized how apps would require no modification to work on iPad mini, which has the same screen resolution as the original iPad, just in a 7.9-inch package instead of an 8.9-inch one.
“There are always going to be developers who want to fine tune their experience,” Onswipe Chief Product Officer E.J. Kalafarski told me. “Obviously a button that’s designed to be finger-sized on the large iPad is going to be a little bit smaller than finger-sized on the mini. But all else being equal, the fact that it’s the same resolution, the same aspect ratio, the same number of pixels, Apple probably felt that was a worthy trade-off, to avoid any sort of ecosystem fragmentation, any need for developers to write or re-write second versions of their websites for the mini.”
If you start allowing developers to tweak web experiences for iPad mini, there are some definite implications in terms of consistency of experience. You could have users finding a different site than the one they’re used to on their existing iPads, and that might frustrate some users who are just looking to replicate what their iPads can already do, except smaller. Imagine if you were forced to use only a mobile site on iPad mini, the ones designed for smartphones, if some developers felt that provided a better overall experience. I’m sure more than a few users would be less than thrilled in that situation.
On the downside, developers will likely feel somewhat babysat by this move, since it ties their hands in terms of developing custom web experiences for what is still a different-sized device, which has definite UI implications. On the other hand, Apple avoids any uncertainty in what users expect from an iPad mini web-browsing experience. And, as Onswipe CEO Jason Baptiste pointed out, there’s the added benefit that Apple doesn’t have to worry about a situation where the iPad mini eventually becomes more popular than the iPad itself, which if you’re dealing with multiple types of content layouts, will require much more rework on the part of developers down the road.
Onswipe says its product still works perfectly well as-is, and suspects that’ll be the case for most web-based products targeted at the iPad, so this isn’t a huge issue. And for end users it’s probably ultimately a very good thing. But it does provide an interesting look inside Apple’s philosophy with the iPad mini, and just how much the company is intent on making sure it’s not a compromised version of the standard iPad experience.