Rule Britannia? FT fires warning shot at Apple
The release of a Financial Times app that bypasses Apple’s App Store is a warning shot at the iPad maker’s quest to rule the high seas of digital publishing.
Launched just hours after Apple announced Newsstand, the iPad maker’s destination to access digital versions of mags and rags, FT made clear why it created the app:
“We are determined to make it as accessible as possible for the user,” John Ridding, chief executive of the FT told Reuters. “Readers will be able to get our journalism through whatever device or channel they may choose.”
Of course, that’s in addition to the British daily not having to pay a 30 percent commission for the privilege of having its iOS version appear in Apple’s Newsstand.
Some of the other advantages of FT having its own, HTML5-based app are spelled out nicely by GigaOm’s Bobbie Johnson. First, the app is independent of anybody, ending the possibility that any of its content will be blocked. Second, updates will be automatically performed via the Web and won’t need to go through Apple. Lastly, the app isn’t OS specific, so there’s no need for readers to download separate apps for different devices and publishers like the FT won’t need to pour money into developing separate apps.
By opting for HTML 5, the FT also gets to control its subscriber data. With Apple’s Newsstand app, publishers chose a compromise with Apple, whereby subscribers were given an option to share their name, email and address with publishers.
So why is FT the first? Deep pockets (FT publisher Pearson has an estimated market cap of $15.19 billion) and the time to develop an app on the arguably immature HTML5 platform may have something to do with it.
In a quick comparison of the iOS version of FT to its HTML5 counterpart on my iPad 2 over WiFi, I found the iOS version of the FT to load faster by several seconds. Even so, there was a warning stating “If you are not on WiFi, this may take awhile” while I waited for Web-based app to load. Tapping on individual articles, I saw no difference in access times, but that was only after the HTML5 version had “optimized” itself for offline viewing. Offline viewing appeals to the jet-setting crowd, and could be the Web version’s saving grace, but only if it could cache more content more efficiently than the iOS version. There was a prompt to allow the FT’s Web app to increase its iPad’s cache size, but I notice no difference in the amount of content available for offline viewing when comparing the two versions. And accessing the HTML5 app offline isn’t possible through the FT Web App icon on my iPad’s homescreen.
That said, the viewing experiences aren’t remarkably different.
FT has had to overcome some hurdles in making the new FT app experience one on par with so-called native apps. As TechCrunch’s Mark Siegler wrote in February: “…right now, most HTML-based mobile apps are a joke when compared to their native counterparts. It’s not even remotely close.”
“Native is what we have to deal with as we wait for HTML5 to prevail”, Siegler wrote.