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Financial Times Say Buh-bye to iOS. Should you?


ios familyIn a move I found somewhat surprising, PaidContent reported that The Financial Times of London is shutting down its iOS app in favor an HTML5-only approach. It got me wondering, should other developers consider going this route or is it something that only  a niche player like FT could pull off?

PaidContent reports that FT took this step because its numbers supported the move. It actually began the transformation last Fall, starting a transition period in which it let its existing users continue to use the app. But with the release of an HTML5 web app, FT watched the pure iOS app numbers plunge.

With only a small percentage of users left using the iOS app, it made little sense for it continue to support a dual approach. And if you're thinking about this approach, you may want to learn from FT's experience.

Glenn Gruber, AVP of mobile solutions at Ness says it's a strategic decision that each company needs to make on its own based on its own experiences, which won't necessarily mirror FT's.

"Some publishers are more concerned with maximizing reach, other for maximizing profit. Hearst is very happy with the results they're getting from being on iOS. Recently Distimo published a report showing that Newsstand has been very successful for both publishers and Apple. Conde Nast saw a 268% increase in digital subscriptions and Future Publishing 750%," Gruber explained.

Gruber is careful to point however, that developing for HTML5 does not necessarily mean you would drop iOS or even Android. It is possible to develop in HTML5 and then move the app to an iOS container to make it behave as though it were an iOS app. This is the approach that the cross-platform development tools PhoneGap or Appcellerator take.

It's worth noting that in his biography, Steve Jobs indicated how much he disliked these cross-platform approaches because he felt it watered down the development environment Apple had worked so hard to build for developers. Of course, Jobs always hated any products that he saw as interfering with Apple's unified approach.

Gruber says your development decisions are going to depend on your audience and even the publishing tools you choose.

"HTML5 content can be used within native apps, though HTML5 alone is not the way one would design a native app. But it can provide a better alternative than some of the traditional publishing tools. David Wheeler on his Just a Theory blog reviewed Conde Nast’s The New Yorker mag on the iPad and panned it because of huge download sizes and adherence to the traditional print magazine layout," he said.

Gruber adds, "The huge file sizes were attributed to the shortcomings of the Adobe Digital Publishing Suite that CN uses, which resulted in using images, rather than text for the articles. Conde Nast has indicated its plan is to move to HTML5 in the future to resolve this," he explained.

In the end, FT's approach made sense for it given its audience make-up and where it wanted to devote its development resources. Whether you decide to go a similar route depends a great deal on your own unique circumstances, keeping in mind the huge reach that Apple has with its devices.

Photo courtesy of Apple.

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