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Building iPhone and iPad Apps from Existing Web Content

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A number of companies want to build an app from existing web content as an extension to their company brand. Be sure to build this type of app the right way so you can get your app through Apple's stringent review policy. Apps must not simply be a browser into your existing web site. Jeff Hughes tells you to how to arrange the data and view of content differently in your app so it doesn't have the same look and feel as your web site.
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A lot of companies have an idea to extend the presence of their business and product web sites by creating an iPhone or iPad app that showcases their existing web site content. For example, you have a medical web site that helps visitors understand and diagnose various health issues. Your customer can log in to your site (as a paid or free member) to gain access to your information. Now you want to make the same content available on an iPhone or iPad app.

A real-world example is the web site called Angie's List. This site lists contractors and service providers in your local area and rates them based on actual customer reviews. You pay a fee to access this information. Angie's List also provides an iPhone and iPad app that allows you to log in and view the same information as you would from their website.

However, there is a difference between the web-based presentation and the mobile presentation of the same information. The presentation of the data is different in the way it's organized and displayed to the end user in the app. The app does not simply replicate the web site on the iPhone or iPad; rather, it has a different look and feel to it, along with different buttons and tabs.

This is an important distinction to keep in mind when developing an app that uses original content from your web site. You want to avoid creating a "browser" for your web site content on your iPhone/iPad app. In other words, if you create an app that generally mimics the appearance of your web site, Apple will consider your app to be no different them your web site and will reject your app on the grounds that it's too close in appearance to your web site. Apple doesn't want you to create an app that appears to be the same web site and could be accessed through the mobile devices' web browser.

So the best way to approach this type of development is to figure out a way to draw the content out of the web site and present it in your app with a completely different look and feel.

You'll gain a number of benefits from doing this:

  • Your app will be more appealing to existing users of your site because it presents the data in a more useful mobile format. Mobile presentation requires you to present data in a different way due to screen size constraints, for example.
  • You can bring additional value to your content on your mobile device by providing only the necessary elements of your data. People on the go want to use their mobile devices to access only what's most important. You can arrange the presentation of the data in the mobile app in a way that is more effective for the mobile users.

Another aspect of using web content for your app has to do with limiting the size of the initial app and keeping additional content on a server for download by the app at a later time.

For example, you may be developing a game app with multiple levels of play. You may be building the app to have in app purchase capability. The users of your game can initially download the game for free or pay a minimal charge such as $.99.

If they like the game and are interested in playing additional levels, you can offer those levels as an in app purchase. When they make the purchase, you can direct the app to download the additional content from a server in which you have stored the additional content. You can also make changes more easily to the downloadable content if needed when it's stored on your server, not on the app itself.

Apple has strict guidelines for accessing content from your own web site in either of these circumstances. If you plan to access content from an existing web site, make sure that you don't mimic the look and feel of the home page of your web site. Your app will be viewed as just a browser into your site and will be rejected.

If you access content, such as new levels of a game, from your web site, make sure you test the in app purchase capability thoroughly before submitting your app for review and approval to Apple. Following these steps will help you save time and money and avoid rejection from Apple.

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