NPR’s New iPad Site May be ‘Ideally Suited for Audio’

In anticipation of the coming iPad, NPR is preparing a touch-friendly version of its Web site tailored for the device, similar in concept to iPhone-friendly sites that offer different navigation and font sizes for its small screen.

NPR also is developing an app for the device, joining a growing list of news organizations. Both will be ready in time for the iPad’s launch on April 3.

But its approach to the Web site appears to be unusual. (Peter Kafka reported today that The Wall Street Journal is taking a similar approach.)

Kinsey Wilson, senior vice president and general manager of NPR Digital Media (and a member of Poynter’s board of trustees), likened the app to a fixed-price meal, with fewer options aimed at creating a rich overall experience, versus an a la carte menu, in which the diner chooses exactly what he wants from an array of choices.

The app (which, like NPR’s iPhone app, will be free) will offer a self-contained, guided experience, with fewer choices and features such as photos, links and graphics. The iPad site will offer a typical user-controlled, “intentional” experience, adapted for the device.

“Until we see how everyone uses it, it’s anybody’s guess as to what the best experience is,” Wilson told me. “We think the app will be more about browsing and listening … a little more relaxed, a little more serendipitous.”

When someone uses an iPad to visit NPR.org, the site will auto-detect the browser and present a different version of the page. (A speaker at South by Southwest Interactive this weekend said that auto-detection will become more important as more types of Internet devices come on the market.)

The iPad-friendly site will be designed to use Apple’s signature gestures to navigate and click on links.

Developers also are looking into making the audio controls “more convenient and persistent,” Wilson said. He didn’t say what that will look like.

“We’re practically unique among news organizations in the volume and quality of audio that we offer, and these platforms are ideally suited for audio listening,” he said.

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Any news organization that uses Flash for its multimedia presentations, video and audio must deal with the fact that the iPad won’t play Flash. But this presented a particular problem for NPR because a key feature of its site is a Flash-based audio player in the top right corner of most pages.

Wilson said developers are working around this by building a player in HTML5, which “wasn’t high on our radar until we faced this particular obstacle.”

It’s been relatively easy to design the new site, he said, due to changes that were made to the site’s back end as part of a redesign last year.

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