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Financial Times shuts off iOS apps: Will others follow?

The Financial Times recently said it plans to turn off its iPad and iPhone applications for good as the publisher moves to further embrace an HTML5-first strategy.

The publisher had already pulled its subscription-based iOS apps from Apple's App Store last year and now says it will no longer make the apps available to existing users. With Technology Review saying it is also looking to get rid of its subscription-based iOS apps, the question is will other publishers take similar steps this year?

?Publishers are rethinking their strategies,? said Carnet Williams, vice president of InMobi?s Sprout, San Mateo, CA. ?With the maturing of the Android marketplace and with Windows Phone making a big push, if I want to reach all of these users, I need to embrace HTML5.

?With HTML5, you can have the experience of native apps yet it will go across multiple experiences,? he said.

?Publishers are realizing that if they don?t make these changes quickly, they are done for. So you are seeing a much faster pace of change than you would have a decade ago.?

Downgrading apps
The Financial Times will continue to support apps for iOS that are advertising-based such as the How to Spend It app, which surpassed 100,000 downloads in its first seven months of availability.  

Other publishers are likely to follow the Financial Times? example and move away from iOS for subscription-based apps, per Mr. Williams.

MIT?s The Technology Review recently published an article on its Web site in which the publication?s editor discusses the technical and financial difficulties it encountered with apps. The editor says the publication is currently redesigning to follow the Financial Times? HTML5 strategy and says it will kill its apps, too.

While not the only publisher to grumble about the fees Apple charges publishers for app subscriptions, The Financial Times was one of the first to embrace HTML5 as a workaround.

As the mobile environment continues to evolve other publishers are also beginning to find iOS is no longer as attractive as it once was.

The factors helping to devalue iOS in the eyes of publishers include Apple?s moves last year to start charging publishers a 30 percent fee for every subscription or purchase made via their iOS apps.

Given the small amount of money publishers are already making from apps, Apple?s move has effectively taken away the possibility of making any profit from iOS apps.

Additionally, iOS is no longer the only game in town. The significant growth of Android over the past couple of years and the smaller growth for some other platforms mean publishers increasingly need to invest in designing and maintaining apps for several different platforms, which can be a time-consuming and costly endeavor.

It is under these circumstances that publishers are beginning to gravitate toward HTML5, which theoretically enables companies to build once and execute across multiple platforms.

Implications for marketers
There are implications for marketers if more publishers move to HTML5 and consider abandoning their apps. Marketers who have been focusing on filling mobile app inventory with ads may need to start thinking about rich media ads for the mobile Web.

?With HTML5, marketers are able to slot in advertising that will reach a wider audience,? InMobi?s Mr. Williams said.

The Financial Times? reported success with its HTML5 strategy is one of the factors emboldening it to take a drastic move such as switching off its iOS apps.

The publisher reported that 10 months after its launch, the Web app surpassed 2 million users. Additionally, the launch of the Web app significantly boosted the Financial Times? mobile use, with mobile now driving 12 percent of subscriptions and 19 percent of online traffic.

Hearst Magazines has also seen success with an HTML5 strategy although the publisher expects to continue to support mobile apps.

Since last year, when Hearst began moving the Web sites for 17 of its publications over to an HTML5 platform, the publisher has seen the number of paid views via mobile grow from three percent up to 20 percent.

The Good Housekeeping brand alone saw a 652 percent increase in paid views since the HTML5 site was introduced in Oct. 2011.

Cosmopolitan, another Hearst brand, is seeing 30 percent of all paid views happening via mobile.

?We are watching this grow really rapidly every month,? said Grant Whitmore, vice president of digital at Hearst Magazines, New York.

?We think that we are also picking up a new source of traffic. ?It is remarkable how much having the information in the right format contributes,? he said.

?I think HTML5 is a great platform for really any publisher because it allows your Web content to make sense to people on a phone or tablet and it allows a rich experience. I think that it is the wave of the future.?