The Financial Times, which is among the few web publications that seems able to make sense of paywalled content, is launching a web application [paywalled article] for mobile devices, specifically to bypass Apple’s iTunes App Store. Here they are side by side.
Rob Grimshaw, managing director of FT.com, said the FT had no plans to pull out of any apps store, but that it would encourage users to adopt the web app with a marketing campaign, including a week’s free access.
The issue highlighted in the FT’s own article is analytics. The FT says it wants to "secure a direct relationship with readers." Apple currently does not divulge information about subscribers to publishers.
Another possible factor may be Apple’s insistence that all subscriptions and in-app purchases are offered through its own payment system, ensuring a 30% cut of every transaction. Publishers may also offer subscriptions on their own site, but may not undercut the App Store, nor include links to such offers within the app, as detailed here.
Is the web app as good? Well, A banner encourages the user to pin the app to the home screen so that it behaves more like an app:
Further, the web app makes use of HTML 5 local storage to enable offline reading and prompts the user to increase its local storage space:
With these two features, the web option can be nearly as good as a native app. However, while there are advantages for the FT, there will be little or no intrinsic advantage for subscribers, who like the convenience of purchasing through the App Store, unless the web option is cheaper or better. Perhaps it is: the FT’s Tim Bradshaw says it is “actually faster than native”.
The dark side of Apple’s success with iOS is the company’s control over the platform and tax on all transactions within it. Interesting to see the FT turning back to the open web in an effort to win back a little freedom.