Developers creating apps for the iPad enjoy one immediately obvious advantage: All that extra screen real estate vs. the iPhone. With great screen size, however, comes great responsibility.
We’ll get into that, but first some background: When you click on a link inside an iPhone or iPad app, the developer has a choice to make. The app can either exit and launch Safari, or it can integrate what Apple calls a WebView. That essentially means the developer gets the guts of Mobile Safari — the rendering engine, the zooming, and other niceties, without some of the “chrome” — the bookmarks button, the “tabs” button, and the like.
Unsurprisingly, many apps whose utility involves frequently viewing web pages choose the embedded WebView approach.
On the iPad, developers are faced with a follow-up choice on precisely how to integrate that WebView in certain scenarios. NetNewsWire and Twitterrific for iPad — the massively popular RSS reader and the massively popular Twitter client — each implement WebViews, and they represent the two sides of the Great WebView Implementation Debate that I’m considering here.
The apps look more than superficially similar. Like Apple’s Mail app for the iPad, they each employ a two-column view in landscape orientation, with a source list on the left (feeds for NetNewsWire, timeline views for Twitterrific) at one-third of the screen’s width, and the main view eating up the other two-thirds.
When you click on links as you read posts in NetNewsWire’s wider right panel, the WebView takes over that entire area. That is, the blog entry you were just reading in that wider column is entirely replaced by the WebView; clicking the back arrow takes you back to the original post.
Twitterrific takes the other approach. When you click on a tweeted link, the app displays a modal WebView. It’s precisely the same width as the wider list of tweets, but instead of replacing that column, it’s overlaid — like a dialog box in Mac OS X — and centered atop the iPad screen. In thus overlaps the source list on the left and the timeline on the right. The entire background is dimmed, as well. To get back to your timeline, you need to tap the “Done” button at the upper-right of the modal WebView.
It’s a small but significant difference. And I struggle to find any advantages to Twitterrific’s approach.
The one potential benefit I considered regarding that modal WebView display is the fact that, in theory, you can still see the main content (in this case, the list of tweets), whereas in NetNewsWire you completely lose out on seeing the original blog post until you go back. In practice, though, the only element of the tweet list that remains visible under the WebView overlay is really the relative timestamp — i.e., how long ago the tweets (whose content and author you can no longer see) were submitted.
In NetNewsWire, on the other hand, the inline WebView leaves the left-side source list completely visible. That means that you can switch to another source — another feed folder, or another individual feed, or another post within a feed — instantly, without needing to dismiss the WebView first.
The WebViews are the same width, so size isn’t the issue. Once you’re in the WebView, you use back and forth navigation arrows to move between webpages as you’d expect, and in NetNewsWire you can go “back” all the way to the original blog post that launched your current web sojourn. In Twitterrific, you’re forced to hop from the back and forth arrows to that “Done” button to get back to where you started.
I like Twitterrific a lot. But I don’t like its WebView implementation, and I don’t like that modal WebView in any other iPad app, either. It feels like a remnant of the mostly-bygone pop-up era, and clunkier than my iPad surfing should be.