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I have a website that shows a list of news stories, much like Hacker News.

Users can upvote stories, or they can click each headline to be taken to the actual news story on the external website.

I see a lot of our users scanning this list on the home page, and then opening multiple browser tabs as they go down the list (often 10 or 20 tabs). They open many browser tabs as they scan, rather than visiting each external website as they go.

This pattern of opening multiple browser tabs works great for users on the desktop. But I’m now building an iOS app. What would be a good approach to use for an iPhone app that would help users access the content in the way they need? (Opening multiple tabs in an iPhone app doesn’t really make sense, and constantly moving back and forth between the main list and the external sites is cumbersome).

On iOS, external websites are typically shown inside the app in a UIWebView. This keeps the user in the app and means you can generally deliver a more consistent experience.

So. I’m looking for suggestions as to what UX patterns or screen flows I could use on iOS that would help users access and view multiple external websites from within the app?

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note: As an aside, I’m considering some method of marking “interesting stories” as they go down the list (a bit like favorites). I can then have a dedicated view for their favourites that they can move through. This would help group all of the stories that they are interested in together, but it still doesn’t solve the constant back and forth between web views and the main list.

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Are you sure that they are consciously and deliberately opening multiple tabs? Or is that the default behavior of the links, e.g., a target="_blank" attribute on the anchors? –  jimirings Jun 26 at 16:28

2 Answers 2

Most modern default mobile browsers support tabs in such a way that would mirror the current workflow of your existing desktop users. I would take another look at developing a mobile site rather then an app. I understand the desire to keep users inside your app, but your users may have the expectation that clicking links will take them to the browser, rather then a limited experience inside the app.

If you did want to keep your content in an app, rather then tabs, have your users able to swipe back and forth between stories. Many popular news reader apps already function like this. (Flipboard, Play Newstand, etc). Another paradigm in use that seems to work well is "tiling", where you tile items on the page in a grid with images and content snippets, and then users are taken to the story with a click. The page they are taken to has a return function that takes them back to the grid for additional browsing.

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You can let users mark the links that interest them, and add them to a reading list. Once inside the reading view, they can switch between the articles like so:

iOS mockup multiple webpages

However, before you implement something like this, there are a couple things to note.

  1. The problem with displaying a website in a UIWebView is sub-optimal experience. Many times the link is about showing something new involving WebGL for example, and the user needs to open that tab in the full browser to actually experience the site. There should be an easy way to go to a full browser app or window, and

  2. Your core assumption is that users would want to open multiple tabs at the same time. This might be true for desktop users, but on mobile the single-purpose-view mindset might signal a different user expectation. You'd need to do some user research to make sure you are validating your assumptions.

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