July 25, 2011

Tablet and Mobile Publishing with HTML5

In my research into applications for digital publishing, I came across the recently released Financial Times Web application (app.ft.com). If you visit the FT Web app on an iPhone or an iPad you'll see that it feels very much like a native application, this is because FT has taken advantage of some of the great features and aspects of HTML5 and CSS3.

1) Local Storage - To help with off-line reading, the FT Web app asks the user to allow for local storage of articles.

2) Sencha Touch - The FT Web app uses Sencha Touch for touchscreen interactivity such as swiping and scrolling.

3) Full Screen - The application loads as a fullscreen application in the mobile browser, hiding the Safari navigation controls etc.

While the Financial Times has yet to pull their applications from the Apple iOS store or Andoird Marketplace, they have indicated that they may not update the native applications. That makes sense, as from the perspective of the publisher there are a number of advantages to creating an HTML5 app versus a native app:

1) Multi-platform support - Because the application is pure HTML, there is no need to create separate applications for iOS, Andoid, BlackBerry etc. The content can automatically resize to fit different screen dimensions. Different designs for Horizontal, Vertical, 1024, 960, 640, 480 are not required, and CSS3's media queries can be utilized to dynamically present the content based on actual screen dimensions. One mobile framework that may deserve its own blog post, PhoneGap, makes it incredibly easy to create HTML5 applications that can be compiled as native mobile applications.

2) Instant Updates - Because the content delivered to the Web application uses HTML, FT is not reliant upon the app stores to push our updates to their applications. Users can be sure that they are always seeing the latest content and application improvements whenever they visit the site.

3) Restrictions - Publishers have continuously complained about Apple's iOS policies and guidelines. The problem is that if you want to distribute an application through their app store, you have to play by their rules. By creating their own HTML5 application FT is no longer beholden to those rules.

4) Pricing and Subscriptions - By forgoing the app stores, FT controls the pricing and subscription options. A big reason for cutting out the middleman is that FT no longer has to give up a percentage of their revenues to Apple, Google, Adobe or anyone else.

With many publishers using the Adobe Digital Publishing Suite as a means for creating published applications through the iOS app store and Android Market, you might think that Adobe would be trying to steer publishers away from creating HTML5 applications, but that is not necessarily the case. Adobe's Dreamweaver and Flash product evangelists are trying hard to position their respective tools as essential software for creating mobile applications (Dreamweaver has built-in support for the PhoneGap framework). So while Adobe may not end up being the final distributor of mobile apps, they would very much like to become the de facto standard for mobile application design and development.

As the HTML5 standard is still evolving and the tablet/mobile market is still very young, it will be interesting to see how this all plays out. Will publishers begin to move away from the app stores in droves, or will they stick with a proven distribution method and continue to push Apple and Google for more control?

Posted at 04:37 pm by Joseph Bachana

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