Financial Times bypasses Apple's App Store with browser-based application
By Chantal Tode
June 15, 2011
The Financial Times is taking a different route to drive mobile subscriptions and has launched a browser-based application instead of making the content available via Apple's App Store.
The Financial Times Web App was built using HTML5 technology, which means it is basically a souped up mobile Web site. By using HTML5, the company hopes to reduce costs and increase efficiency by designing one app that can be rolled out across multiple devices and that does not need to be downloaded from an app store.
“As the first major publisher to launch a Web app, the FT is breaking new ground,” said Steve Pinches, FT group product head, emerging technologies, at The Financial Times, London. “With the recent proliferation of smartphones, tablets, apps and stores, it became clear that creating an HTML5 Web app is more efficient than designing a native app for each device.”
“By developing one core codebase the FT can roll our Web app onto multiple platforms and devices,” he said. “We are able to iterate, test and redeploy much more quickly than the development cycles for a native application.”
The promise land
A browser-based app also enables The Financial Times to avoid paying the charges associated with having an app downloaded from one of the app stores.
However, an HTML5 app enables users to use it in their browser, traditional apps must be downloaded – which usually happens from an app store – and installed on the device.
“These app stores are controlled by their owner and may apply charges, rules and policies which are never a constraint with HTML5, distributed purely via the Web,” Mr. Pinches said.
However, there are some limitations to Web based apps that suggests we won’t see a significant migration away from app stores in the near future.
For example, rolling out the Web-based app across multiple devices is not as seamless as one would hope.
The FT Web App is initially optimized for iPad and iPhone. It will be adapted for other tablets, including the Samsung Galaxy range, Motorola Xoom and BlackBerry PlayBook.
The Financial Times said it will be adding new features to the Web app first and any native app development will be considered on its merits on a case by case basis.
The Financial Times currently has an Android app for the Samsung Galaxy tablet.
“HTML5 holds out the promise of being able to display content across a lot of different devices but we’re not there yet,” said Jason Armitage, a London-based senior analyst with The Yankee Group. “There are elements that need to be done on top of base coding to make sure content works properly across devices.”
Currently, HTML5 is well suited for apps like the one from The Financial Times which are heavily text based.
"Your results may vary from platform to platform," said Jesse Herlitz, UX engineer at Ubermind.
"It's sort of a catch 22, one of the greatest reasons to do a web app is get more bang for your buck (ie. reach more platforms with a single code base) but all of the best browser features are supported on the platform that has the strongest App Store: iOS," he said.
"All that to say even in the best of circumstances- performance cannot currently be matched by a native application. The list of supported features in HTML5 is growing, but their implementation is very weak. At this point in time, native applications do things the way humans like them: well."
While The Financial Times can use its existing well-known outlets to promote the Web app, other less known developers may have a harder time.
This is where an app store can provide advantages like providing a centralized location to search for content.
Storefronts still important
“Most users on a phone and pad are looking to the app stores for content, not thinking you will have built a browser-based version,” said Scott Michaels, vice president at Atimi Software, Vancouver, Canada.
From a consumer perspective, the FT Web App delivers a traditional app-like experience in a Web browser. According to The Financial Times, the Web app is faster, features new content such as video and FT blogs and it automatically updates.
Users can also save a shortcut to their homescreen and be able to read the FT Web App offline at any time. Users need to register once in order to receive access to FT content through a range of devices or on a PC.
“The FT Web App gives us the opportunity to provide our customers with a simple and best possible experience of FT journalism in a world of increasing digital complexity,” The Financial Times' Mr. Pinches said.
“By continuing to have a direct relationship with our customers, we can continue to offer FT customers access to FT content anytime, anywhere, on a PC and multiple devices, with one login and one subscription payment,” he said.
Future updates are expected to include adding more columnists, FT blogs, special reports, illustrative graphics and a “Clippings” service which will enable users to read articles later.
The Financial Times model lets users access ten free articles a month, across any device, after a free registration.
“Although this is an interesting development, we are not expecting to see storefronts lose relevance to a large portion of the market,” The Yankee Group's Mr. Armitage said.
Related content: Content, Financial Time, HTML5, browser-based apps, app stores, Steve Pinches, Jason Armitage, The Yankee Group, Ubermind, Jesse Herlitz, Atimi Software, Scott Michaels, mobile marketing, mobile
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