Peter Kafka

Recent Posts by Peter Kafka

For NPR, the iPad Means a New App–And a New Web Site

Like many media companies, National Public Radio is scrambling to prepare an app in time for the iPad’s April 3 launch.

But the standoff between Apple (AAPL) and Adobe has prompted NPR to take on another engineering project at the same time: It is building a version of its Web site designed specifically for the iPad.

So if all goes as planned, iPad users who want to listen to NPR programming will have a couple choices next month. They can:

  • Download a free iPad-optimized version of the broadcaster’s popular (two million downloads) iPhone app. Or
  • Use the iPad’s browser to visit, which will detect that it’s being viewed with Apple’s device and serve up a custom-built site. This means no trace of Adobe’s (ADBE) Flash, which is used to power graphics and media on the site.

I’ve heard about a handful of other big publishers who are altering some but not all of their Web sites to create iPad-optimized versions.

That’s what The Wall Street Journal–like this Web site, the Journal is owned by News Corp. (NWS)–is doing, for instance: Visitors to the newspaper’s front page will see an iPad-specific, Flash-free page. But those who click deeper into the site will eventually find pages that haven’t been converted.

Kinsey Wilson, who oversees digital media for NPR, says he has been able to create a new version of his Web site–while keeping the existing one up and running for other visitors–because of the site recent redesign, which split up the data that powers the site from its presentation layer. In English, this means NPR can swap out the site’s facade while keeping its plumbing and foundation intact.

Just as important: NPR only runs a smattering of advertising, in the form of sponsorships it sells to a handful of marketers. This means it doesn’t have to worry about how to handle the Web ad ecosystem, which depends on Flash. Wilson says NPR has locked up a launch sponsor for both the iPad app and the custom site.

So what will the app and site look like? Alas, NPR won’t let me see a demo or look at mock-ups, i part, I gather, because the network is still building the things.

But here’s something to chew on until launch: Wilson says that while iPhone apps are a “very intentional experience”–you load the thing up and seek out specific content–he thinks the iPad will be a “lean back device.” That’s traditionally the distinction multimedia types use to differentiate between a computer and a TV. Intriguing.

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I’m a giant vat of creative juices.

— David Pogue on why he’s joining Yahoo