The BBC launches new homepage trial

The BBC is offering its users a sneak preview of a new homepage design, which is clearly aimed at one particular type of device: the increasingly popular tablet.

As operating systems - including Windows 8, as the developer preview demonstrates - move to accommodate the seemingly inexorable tide of tablet devices that are appearing on the market, so too do websites. The BBC's new design, unveiled in optional beta form today, is a clear indication of the trend.

Instead of the current vertical-scrolling site, the BBC's proposed makeover opts for a JavaScript-powered horizontal scrolling method which will be familiar to users of the broadcaster's iPlayer service.

In an apparent nod to the tablet generation - and echoing Microsoft's 'Metro' UI for Windows Phone and Windows 8 - each story is presented as a tile, with a headline and an image. Clicking on a tile takes you to the story page proper - which, at present, is identical in both the standard and beta versions of the site.

A clock and weather readout at the top of the display picks up the user's location from their IP address, displaying the relevant data accordingly, while a subject switcher at the bottom allows the user to choose the type of content displayed on the main page.

Those who choose to scroll below the default screenful will find TV listings advertising the BBC's various programmes, while 'Most Popular' links to iPlayer content from both the TV and radio channels is included on the left.

Sadly, touch isn't integrated too deeply into the new site: while it feels like it would be natural to 'swipe' the content on a touchscreen device, users instead have to tap navigation buttons at either side of the screen to move on to the next lot of content.

The BBC has claimed that the beta is 'nearly ready' to replace the current homepage, but that it won't be happening right away. "During the beta phase we will be adding new features and making further improvements," a spokesperson claimed, "so it is important that you email us during this time with your feedback and suggestions.

"In January 2011 the BBC announced its plans to reorganise the BBC’s online service into ten product areas, including the BBC Homepage," the company's statement on the matter explains. "BBC Online is a distinct service that sits alongside our radio and television output, and the homepage should provide a window onto the whole world of the BBC.

"When we looked at the homepage in this way and asked audiences what they thought about it, it became clear that we could make the page work harder to showcase more of the BBC’s output on air, on TV and online.

"In response to these findings, we’ve developed a new version of the homepage which we think surfaces the full extent of the BBC’s activity on the web for the first time, whilst still making it easy to find what you need at a glance."

The new homepage, plus links to provide feedback on the design and layout, is available at beta.bbc.co.uk.