New York Times follows Financial Times' footsteps, introduces HTML5 Web app

It looks like another high-profile publication is avoiding Apple's in-app subscription rates by debuting an HTML5 Web app.  On Tuesday, the New York Times followed the Financial Times' footstepsby launching its own new HTML5 Web app for the iPad.

The Financial Times released its HTML5 Web app last year, in an effort to avoid Apple's in-app subscription rates. The Financial Times later pulled its iOS apps from the App Store—around the same time Apple would have ousted the app for not complying with the store's terms.

The main benefit of HTML5, aside from the fact that it lets companies avoid paying Apple, is that it allows companies to offer a single app across most platforms with a modern Web browser, from desktop computers to mobile tablets and phones. This way, companies don't need to develop apps for each device separately—often a costly enterprise in terms of both time and money. HTML5 has this year seen increased interest from app developers, but there remain issues of standardizing sites and applications across different platforms.

When it rolled out its Web app, the Financial Times said it found Apple’s subscription terms, which give Cupertino a 30 percent cut of any content purchased via an iOS app, to be overly onerous. Far more problematic, however, was that Apple’s rules also give it control over subscriber data. For most publications, subscriptions are an essential part of their bread and butter, so they would rather sign up readers through their own websites—over which they have complete control and reap 100 percent of the profits—than via in-app subscriptions.

In a press release announcing the Web app, the New York Times didn’t specifically mention Apple, saying rather that the new app is part of the newspaper’s “NYT Everywhere” strategy, which offers subscribers the ability to read the paper across a variety of platforms. The Times was one of Apple’s original partners in Newsstand, an iOS feature that collects newspaper and magazine apps in a centralized reading location on the device’s homescreen, as well as offering certain specific capabilities such as auto-updating. There is no indication that the Times will remove its iOS apps, as the Financial Times did, but a Web app certainly offers the potential for such a move down the road, should Apple’s restrictions not be to the Times’s liking.

NYT iPad App

The Web app also offers the ability for the Times to try out new features, without having to first submit them for Apple’s approval. While the Web app bears some similarities to the paper’s iOS apps, it also offers additional features, such as a Trending view, which lists the top 25 articles trending on Twitter in the last hour. Additionally, a feature called Times Wire shows a blog-like chronological feed of articles on the Times’s website starting with the most recent update, while a feature called Today’s Paper displays a digital presentation of the print paper. Like the iOS apps, the Times’s Web app provides full access to the publication’s full content, from all of its sections.

Though the Times’s iOS apps lack some of these features, they offer their own advantages. For one thing, they're more visually appealing. For another, they integrate with iOS's built-in capabilities, such as the new sharing features that were introduced in the last few updates to the mobile operating system.

Of course, the biggest limitation to the Times’s new Web app is that, unlike the iOS apps which offer some content freely to all users, the Web app is available only to current print or digital subscribers.

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