With the arrival of the new iPad and its retina graphics display, publishers of travel iPad apps and websites had better take all of their hotel and destination images and double-down — or actually, double-up — on them.
The 2048-by-1536-pixel display in the third-generation iPad is twice as large as in the iPad 2 display, which means that iPad app developers will need to scurry around to produce higher-resolution images and to deal with the consequent memory, storage, bandwidth and cost issues.
But, probably the larger impact will be on travel website publishers, especially those which emphasize visuals and inspiration.
Bill O’Donnell, chief architect and general manager of Kayak Mobile, says the work required to update Kayak’s iPad app for the retina display “wasn’t too terrible.”
Kayak had an idea about the scope of the required changes because the iPhone 4 led the way with a retina display in June 2010.
“Designers cranked through probably 100 to 200 images for about five days” in order to double their resolution and make them twice as big for the new iPad, O’Donnell says.
The couple of hundred images that the designers focused on were user-interface images such as the orange magnifying glass in the search box; airlines, stops and airport icons, as well as the corners of each box.
But, hotel, car and destination images from suppliers and travel agencies are another story.
Kayak has not repurposed what might be thousands of these images on its website and some, as well as most in the iPad app, and has already begun requesting suppliers and travel agencies to submit the highest-resolution images they have available. In the past, most of these images, including stock photography, have been low resolution and geared for display on computer monitors instead of in high-resolution apps.
In the Kayak iPad app, “we push the nicer images to the front of the list as we start to get better content from destinations and hotels,” O’Donnell says.
Six months from now, when users and iPad apps publishers have accommodated themselves and grown more comfortabel with the retina display, users may consider it “gross,” when they view low-res images in iPad apps or when browsing mobile websites from their iPads, O’Donnell says.
And, this could be a big challenge for websites with thousands of images — especially “aspirational” and other leisure travel sites which lead with visuals, he adds.
“And those sites and apps that lean more toward that kind of thing will need to get on top of this or they will lose that extra impact,” O’Donnell says.
In Kayak’s iPad app, the higher resolution images take up “another half-meg” of memory, with squares, for instance, becoming four times as large and the app requiring more storage and bandwidth, O’Donnell says.
Thus, as Kayak hosts more hotel images and as other iPad apps’ developers and websites feature higher resolution images, “there will be costs associated with that,” O’Donnell says.
Co-founder and CEO Sam Shank calls the iPad update a “nontrivial change,” adding that the company learned of the then-pending iPad’s retina display midway through the design process.
The in-house developer team had to process photos and graphics to accommodate the higher resolution, as well as altering the way scrolling and memory are handled, Shank says.
One change in the Hotel Tonight iPad app to take advantage of its enhanced graphical capabilities is the introduction of dynamic collages, which display images, other content and rates for hotel pages.
Shank says the collages are generated dynamically and have a slightly different layout each time you view the hotel page.
Overall, the experience is intended to be “fun” and geared to resemble “browsing a coffee table book,” Shank says.
(Funny and it all comes full circle when a tablet app attempts to mimic in some ways the experience of rifling through a book in print.)
As part of the development process, each Hotel Tonight employee was given an iPad and they provided feedback on the app in progress, Shank says.
Shank feels strongly about Hotel Tonight’s decision to build the app internally rather than farm it out to a third party.
He adds: “We build hotel booking apps, that’s what we do, and we want to have the competency inside the firm. This makes us strong as an organization as opposed to making a consulting firm stronger because of our skills.”
With the retina graphics display present in the new iPad, companies such as Hotel Tonight will have to strive to be twice as strong if they want to render all the pixels and the user experience just right.