The FT switches to web apps

Interesting move from the FT - they’re moving from native apps to web apps. You can see the new web apps at http://app.ft.com. They have over 1m downloads of their mobile apps, so this is not a small decision. 

The first observation is that this is an impressive technical achievement. The web app looks almost as good as the native app, and does all the ‘native’ navigation tricks that people flocked to apps to be able to do. This probably won’t work for magazines, but it looks perfectly doable for newspapers. 

This will save the FT a lot of time and trouble. Rather than coding a native app for every platform (and then maintaining that knowledge base), they can run one or two core products and tweak separate versions of the same code base for different devices. They won’t be able to use quite the same code for all devices (HTML5 is no more the same on all devices than J2ME was), but this will make life easier. 

If I was being facetious, I’d point out that right now, the RIM Playbook that the FT is no doubt testing is one of about 5 in total that have been sold in London, and that multi-platform benefits are largely theoretical for now, but that will change in time. 

It also results in a different call to action - they can drive people direct to the web app from advertising or the website and track conversions, which you can’t do with the App Store in the same way. 

There is a broader point, of course - that with a web app the FT can bypass Apple’s 30% tax. The FT is still in talks with Apple about whether it can continue using its subscription model despite Apple’s new T&Cs - they’ve said they simply don’t know how Apple will treat it at the end of the month when the guillotine comes down on non-compliant apps. It seems pretty clear to me that Apple had no idea of the broader implications when it changed the T&Cs - it wanted to catch out a few magazines that were abusing the system and ended up casting the net far wider without quite realising it. Dropbox and Bloomberg will clearly be left alone, but the FT is in a grey area. 

The challenge for other publishers in following the FT is that by doing so, they gain 30% but lose frictionless installs from the app store and frictionless payment from iTunes. For the FT, with a dedicated readership willing to pay, it may be worth giving those things up in exchange for the ability to offer a true cross-platform experience. But if you’re depending on impulse download, the tablet experience and the ease of payment to get people to pay for your product where they never paid before, paying Apple 30% of something may be better than keeping 100% of nothing.