The Financial Times’ decision to switch to an HTML5-powered mobile web app a few months ago was met with plenty of skepticism from critics of the emerging web standard. Instead of relying on an unproven, incomplete technology, the argument went, publishers should play it safe and stick to developing native applications for specific operating systems. Sure, Apple and Google will take 30 percent of your revenue from any subscriptions or sales, but the exposure and audience that comes with a native application makes it worth it. Plus, apps can tap into the functions of the device in ways a browser-based app can’t. The same arguments pop up whenever a publisher makes the switch to HTML5.
They’re good points, to be sure. But new developments warrant new assessments, and the Financial Times’ recent announcement that its web app had surpassed the 1-million-user mark since its release in June of this year offers a good case study for where the mobile app industry may be headed.
First, some background. Earlier this year, Apple instituted a new policy for iOS apps in the App Store in which all payments and subscriptions would be required to be made through their in-house payment system. Further, Apple takes a 30 percent cut of the revenue made through apps, which it justifies as a fair price for access to the huge iPhone and iPad user base, as well as the ease of using their native payment system. Fair enough.
But for a newspaper industry that’s struggling just to survive, 30 percent of revenue isn’t pocket change. If there was a way to provide the same functions of a native app and reach a similar-sized audience outside the restrictions of the App Store, why bother going through Apple in the first place? HTML5, it’s becoming increasingly clear, has the potential to give developers and publishers that option, and the FT’s gamble on the technology looks like it has paid off.
The Financial Times decided to skirt around Apple’s 30 percent fee and go straight to its readers via the open mobile web. Adding the shortcut to the web address (app.ft.com) makes it appear like a traditional native app, only running in your browser. The app lets readers subscribe, log in, download content, access articles offline, and more without leaving their browser.
The FT’s mobile readers are more engaged than others and driving traffic at a rapid pace. The paper says that 20 percent of its total page views come from visitors on mobile devices. Mobile readers account for 15 percent of total new subscriptions and 2.5 times as likely to subscribe, as well – revenue which the FT doesn’t have to share with Apple. 45 percent of mobile users have the shortcut on their homescreen. From the statement linked above:
The Financial Times was the first major news publisher to launch an app of this type, which allows readers to access its award-winning journalism easily and quickly direct from the phone’s browser.
Built using HTML5 technology, it features continual and automatic content downloads and improvements. It ensures that FT customers can access FT content anytime, anywhere, on a PC and multiple devices, with one login and one subscription payment.
The infographic accompanying the statement is worth viewing in full, which you can find here.
Has the Financial Times found a successful model for reaching mobile readers? So far, the answer would have to be yes. Will the FT’s foray into the mobile web app world spur other publishers to take the leap along with them? That remains to be seen, but it’s something I’ll be watching for. If HTML5 web apps do take hold in a substantial way, it could change the landscape of both mobile apps and publishing in big ways.