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Summary:

One company is about to find out how web apps compete with native iOS App Store offerings in a very direct sense. The Financial Times is out of the App Store, and now depends on an HTML5 tablet-optimized site alone for presence on Apple devices.

Financial Times HTML5 app

Financial Times HTML5 appWhile it may be an oversimplification to talk about HTML5 as a direct competitor to native apps, one company is about to find out how the two compete in a very real sense. The Financial Times, which in June introduced a tablet and smartphone-optimized version of its digital edition, has removed its apps from the iOS App Store instead of complying with Apple’s requirements for software that offer in-app access to subscription content.

Apple now requires that newspaper and periodical apps offering access to subscription content either offer subscriptions through in-app purchase, which entitles Apple to a 30 percent cut of all revenue, or remove links to their own external subscription sign-up pages. FT‘s subscriptions were handled outside of the store, and rather than just remove the sign up link like competitor The Wall Street Journal  did, FT apparently prefers removing its native software altogether in the hopes that readers will make the transition to the web-based app.

The problem with Apple’s model wasn’t so much the revenue split, according to FT CEO John ridding, who spoke to paidContent.org recently. More important to the newspaper was the valuable customer information normally gathered through subscriptions, which under Apple’s model is an opt-in process that customers can decide on for themselves, rather than something passed on to the publisher automatically. FT‘s revenue model depends on its ability to gather that information, which isn’t guaranteed through Apple’s system.

But the effect the iPad has had on FT‘s digital success is not insignificant. FT.com now represents around one-quarter of the newspaper’s overall sales, and the iPad was directly leading to around 10 percent of the company’s digital subscriptions.  Since the iPad’s introduction, however, the FT has seen around 100,000 new subscriptions, and even if only a fraction of those actually signed up through the iPad, that doesn’t mean other web-based subscribers didn’t consider iPad access a motivating factor in their decision.

The web app has already seen 550,000 users according to the FT, but it also provided free access for multiple weeks following launch, so it’s too early to say whether it’ll be able to drive the same kind of subscriber increases that the app managed.

So far, Apple has had mixed results when it comes to convincing publishers to embrace its subscription model, but many magazines in particular seem to be on board, and that number is growing. That might be because magazines depend more heavily on advertising dollars as opposed to subscriber info for revenue. FT is actually planning to continue to use the App Store for those type of products, including its How To Spend It weekend luxury magazine.

For those interested in seeing how an outsider approach to Apple’s ecosystem works out when compared to playing nice with Apple’s guidelines in exchange for a spot in the App Store, the FT represents a near-perfect test case, so stay tuned.

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  1. In my opinion they aren’t really comparable. Native apps just have a much more smooth feel in my opinion compared to even the best HTML 5 ones.

    1. Native apps only have a smoother feel if they’re better designed than their web counterparts–whether they’re HTML 4 or 5. Pandora is a good example of a site that’s a better experience as an app. Engadget’s website, on the other hand, is much better in the browser than its iOS app. It really depends on the design talent going in.

      For content destinations, like FT, apps are rarely much more than repackaged WebKit containers.

      1. I agree with Andre. Skill is the key not technology.

  2. let hope HTML5 kills the app store.

  3. Jason Thibeault Wednesday, August 31, 2011

    I couldn’t disagree more with the statement, “While it may be an oversimplification to talk about HTML5 as a direct competitor to native apps.” It is clear that HTML 5-based apps (even within a native os wrapper) will become the defacto way forward. They are easier to make, easier to manage, cross-platform, and provide, obviously, operation outside the walled gardens of native applications. Amazon has demonstrated this artfully with the cloud version of their Kindle reader (which includes utilizing the webkit for local data storage which is really ingenious). This will be a growing battle in the coming 12-18 months (an interesting news story earlier also cited fewer appstore installs/downloads in July, relating it to Apple’s killing of incentivized download models but I wonder if it’s related to this as well) between developers and Apple.

    http://blog.jasonthibeault.com/index.php/2011/08/10/a-sign-of-things-to-come-for-mobile-apps-apples-appstore/

    @jnthibeault

    1. It’s in no way clear that HTML 5-based apps will become a standard, at least in the mobile space. As someone who writes mobile apps for a living, I have had a lot of experience in comparing what can be done via a web app vs a native app. Native apps have far more options for developers. It’s not a slam against HTML 5. It has it’s place for some apps. Experienced developers know that it’s insane to say one tech should be used for all situations. That being said, I’ve found that native apps offer more choice when it comes to creating something for a client.

      I’ll use what makes sense for the task at hand. I wish more devs looked at development this way.

      “When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail”.

    2. Have to agree with Shane. HTML5 was overhyped and now is collapsing in on itself as mobile developers realize the litany of thing it just can’t do, and once you’ve gone down the HTML5 path, you’re usually screwed if you need to do something native. So many developers will stick with native.
      More power to Amazon. They did a great job. But they’re also in a very circumscribed space that is fairly easy to replicate on every platform. That’s not the case for many apps.

  4. The real killer is that no typical user knows how to bookmark a web page onto their home screen. It’s too hard. Apple could make it easier — but why would they?

    So HTML5 apps will be marginal, second-class citizens for the foreseeable future. As well as being less slick and less convenient (sandboxed off from the OS).

  5. This reminds me of how everyone were saying years ago how Java would take over the world, write once and run everywhere was the obvious solution. What happened?

    Native apps will always be ahead of HTML 5 web apps. It’s capable of taking advantage of the mobile device’s hardware capabilities, unlike the web html 5.

    1. Sadly, ours is a opinion that is in decline these days. It seems as if all of the experienced developers that have actually written both web-based and native apps have all gone on to some other field, so what’s left is a sea of newcomers who think everything should be a web app, bar none. Tough to watch.

  6. Jo Dingler, artist Wednesday, August 31, 2011

    FT’s petulant and vindictive anti-Apple behavior shows that it wants to trick or compel the user to provide personal information so that it can create an Orwellian profile on you, then sell and resell it to multiple companies with whom you are likely not interested in, without the user being aware of the consequences such as unwanted emails from it and from those to whom it sells the info.

    Apple is on the correct side of the issue; It does not demand personal info. because it uses an opt-in process. People hate Apple for being on the side of choice and on the side of the citizen/consumer.

    1. Uh, what? An “Orwellian” profile? Unless you have some specific information about FT that I’m unaware of, I think you’re going a bit overboard.

      Maybe their numbers simply say that Apple doesn’t actually provide them with many new subscribers, so there’s no good reason to give Apple a 30% cut of their subscription revenue.

    2. Apple on the side of choice? That is exactly why they killed flash, right? Go jump in the lake!

  7. Windows Phone 7 supports having a shortcut of a HTML5 website in their desktop.

  8. I have tried the new FT app and it is just as good if not better than the old one.

  9. I think it has a better chance of getting ahead of apps because of the fact that its easier to develop applications using html5 and the no worries about browser incompatibilities (im sure mobile device companies will take care of this to get on top of the race).

  10. Anirudhsinh Zala Thursday, November 24, 2011

    It will be win-win situation for both. However HTML5 will have slightly more advantage over native applications due to “Cross-platform” compatibility.

    But yes, HTML5 will surely force Apple to stop (or decrease amount) charging for applications.

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