One of the new features that will be coming in the new Apple iOS 6 release is what Apple is calling ‘iCloud tabs’. What this will do is allow the user to browse a web page and jump from device to device and have that same content follow them. That is, if they are using Safari and the devices are setup to sync with iCloud.
This is a pretty cool feature. I know I often start looking at something on my computer and then for some odd reason I need to get up and go into another room to take care of something. With iCloud tabs, I can now take my tablet or my phone with me and continue consuming that content while I’m taking care of whatever other things I need to take care of.
For example, I could be browsing online dating profiles on my phone while commuting home from work, either in heavy traffic or on the train, whichever sounds safer to you. Then when I get home I can use a larger keyboard to compose an ever so eloquent, “Hey, how is your week going? -Aaron,” as opposed to using the small keyboard on my phone to compose such a long lengthy tedious message.
What this means for developers.
Well now that we know how useful this feature can be, what does it mean for us developers? I think it’s going to raise some questions and figure out how it’s going to have an impact on 1) mobile site design and 2) analytics tracking.
Essentially what I think this will lead to is a rise in responsive site design. If a company has a separate mobile and desktop sites, each with different content, this idea of iCloud tabs isn’t going to work well because the page that you were reading on your mobile device won’t necessarily exist on the site on the desktop version. Which brings up the question, how exactly does the switching take place?
Let’s say I am looking at a page on my mobile device, what I am guessing happens is that when I access the iCloud tab in Safari on my mac, the page will reload. If there is a redirect in place to take me to a desktop version, I will be redirected. If the page is responsive, it will be reformatted and resized. This will probably work in most cases, but what if there is no desktop version? In that case, would I just only have access to the mobile version on my desktop? What would this mean for analytics tracking? Will it be tracking access to the mobile site using the desktop user agent? Will this muddy up all the analytics? I think this would ultimately lead to confusion because you will see mobile pages being accessed by desktop user agents and vice-versa. In order to track usage accurately, we would have to determine when the switch was made and tie the two together.
iOS 6 will be out soon enough and when it’s released, I will be checking into this further.