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Four websites that need iPad apps

The iPad is an amazing device for surfing the web. Its large screen and multitouch gestures make it feel like you're actually holding a web page in your hands.

Web browsing on the iPad is going to get even better with the release of iOS 5. That's when Safari on iPad gains Reading List and Reader functionality and the all-important tabbed browsing.

However, as good as the iPad is at handling web browsing, some websites would clearly benefit from a dedicated iPad app. When viewed on an iPad, these sites lack key features that they show off to full effect when used with desktop browsers. Other websites have a high amount of interactivity that may work on an iPad, but that interactivity doesn't translate well to a touch interface.

I realize that any website could be made into an iPad app. Most websites, however, don't need them. Here at TUAW, for example, there's not much interactivity that goes on when you visit beyond clicking on articles and posting comments. Both of those things are handled easily on an iPad. The same goes for other mainly news-driven sites where the main feature is reading -- dedicated apps really aren't needed.

For more complex interactions, an app is a big help. Here's my list of four websites that need an iPad app... and also one service (or group of iPad apps, really) that needs a website.

1. Facebook.com

Facebook is the biggest offender among websites missing an iPad app. Why? Well, the site does have 750 million users. By the beginning of next year there will be 50 million iPads on the market -- and most of those iPad owners use Facebook. However, the site's traffic doesn't alone dictate the need for an iPad app. No, Facebook.com needs an iPad app because its web functionality is cumbersome when viewed through Safari on the iPad and some features are missing entirely.

The biggest missing feature while viewing Facebook's website on the iPad is Chat. There's just no way to chat with all your Facebook friends through Facebook.com on the iPad. There's also no way to upload photos or video to your wall, as tapping on "Upload" won't access your Camera Roll or Photos libraries on your iPad. Furthermore, Facebook relies on a lot of pop-up windows that you need to scroll through. These windows normally appear when you click on "X number of people like this" links below a wall post. If the list of number of people who "like" that post is long, you have to scroll through it to see everyone on the list. This is doable on the iPad by using two-finger scrolling, but many iPad users don't know about multitouch scrolling of a window within a web page; this contributes to the overall poor user experience for Facebook.com on the iPad.

Thankfully we know that Facebook is working on an iPad app, which looks to be both cool and very functional Now all we have to do is hope Facebook actually decides to release its iPad app to the public. Soon.

2. Mint.com

I'm a Mint junkie. It's the perfect solution for keeping track of multiple financial accounts. What's more, after Intuit bought the company, fears of Mint getting fouled up turned out to be largely unfounded; the site has actually only gotten better. However, Mint.com needs an iPad app.

Why? Primarily because Mint features a huge amount of user interactivity. Not only can you see a complete overview of your financial accounts on the website, you can edit transactions, set budgets, create goals, and view trends -- from a desktop browser, at least. None of those features work well (most, not at all) on Mint.com on the iPad.

Mint fans have been waiting (mostly patiently) for an iPad app for some time. When I interviewed Mint's founder Aaron Patzer, he told me that the company was working on an iPad app. That was over 18 months ago. More recently Mint has asked its users to hold on a little longer as the developer teams are "busy developing an iPad app." The iPad app won't be a simple rework of the iPhone version, but it will be "a brand new experience." Let's hope so.

3. LinkedIn.com

If you're looking for the Facebook equivalent for business relationships, it's LinkedIn. The site allows users to keep connected with their colleagues and business contacts; it's a great alternative to Facebook or other more casual 'friend' networks, especially when you don't want to risk your boss seeing those pictures of you in compromising situations.

While LinkedIn.com is mostly functional through Safari on the iPad, the site offers a high amount of interactivity via searching for contacts or jobs, updating your profile, creating status updates, etc, that could benefit immensely from a dedicated iPad app.

It's worth mentioning that LinkedIn deserves credit for being the company that took what was one of the most horrendously designed UI's of any iPhone app (they originally let users change the color scheme of the app, allowing them to choose from over a dozen colors -- including hot pink) and completely reimagined it, turning it into one of the slickest -- both in design and navigation -- iPhone apps on the market. That gives me a lot of confidence that LinkedIn will be able to pull off a killer iPad app.

Thankfully on the day LinkedIn announced its overhauled iPhone app, I learned from a source familiar with their mobile plans that the company is indeed working on a dedicated iPad app. However, like Facebook and Mint, there's no set time frame for a release.

4. Google Docs

Google Docs is great. The suite of web apps from the search, email and advertising giant allows you to create and share documents, spreadsheets, presentations and more all through your desktop web browser. While Google does offer limited functionality for Docs on the iPad through a mobile version of the site, the mobile version lacks the rich editing capabilities of the desktop web-based version. That's due in part to some limitations in the iPad's mobile Webkit implementation. You can switch to the desktop view in Docs on your iPad, but don't expect it to behave quite like the original.

It's true that there are iPad office application suites that work well with Google Docs. QuickOffice Pro HD and Documents to Go both allow you to download and edit documents from your Google account (see our head-to-head review here). Less-expensive, and correspondingly less functional apps for editing include Office2 HD and GoDocs. None of these truly delivers the simplicity and functionality of Google's cloud offering.

When looking at the iPad as a serious productivity device, Apple's leading the with its iWork suite -- but Pages, Numbers and Keynote don't interoperate with Google Docs in any meaningful way, forcing users to go through hoops to get at their files. It's a frustrating hiccup in what should be a really easy and graceful workflow.

That's why Google could transform the tablet document-editing space by creating a best-in-class dedicated iPad app for its suite. Go all the way or don't go at all. Apple's showed it can be done and I'm sure there are many users who would prefer an alternative to shelling out $10 an app for the iWork suite for rich text, presentation, and spreadsheet editing. Then again, it's not necessarily clear that Google has a strong motivation to make the iPad even more of a world-beater, so we may be stuck with third-party solutions on this one... or Apple could add the Docs API to iWork and turn everything upside-down.

And three apps (or one service) that needs an iPad-compatible website...

iCloud.com

Yes, like MobileMe's website (www.me.com) before it, navigating to www.icloud.com on an iPad brings you to an iPad-specific web page that informs you that if you want to check your iCloud emails, contacts, or calendars on an iPad you have to do so through the Mail, Contacts, and Calendars apps that ship on the device. That's well and good, and the iPad apps function better than any web apps ever could -- but if it's not your iPad you want to check your email on and you are using an iCloud email account, you're out of luck. There is simply no easy way to check your iCloud (or MobileMe) email on an iOS device unless you enable your account to be used with the built-in apps on the device. (You may be able to get around this by using a third-party browser like iCab that allows you to spoof the user agent, but it's clumsy.)

As far as iPhones go, I get the limitation. How often do we use someone else's phone to check our email, right? But on an iPad, which is more of a multi-user device (think sharing with the family or traveling in a group with one iPad, as you might do on a long trip across Europe), there's no way for multiple people to check their iCloud emails without all adding their accounts in the Mail, Contacts, and Calendars settings on the iPad. Doing so will of course enable all email accounts to show up in Mail, potentially causing confusion, privacy concerns, or emails being sent from the wrong account. Apple, if you are listening, I implore you to allow access to iCloud email accounts through Safari on the iPad -- even as a 'pro' option enabled in the account settings. It's an unnecessary barrier.

So that's my list of the biggest iPad app-less offenders. I'd love to hear from you which websites you think really need an iPad app. Let me know in the comments!

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