Let me start by applauding the FT on what looks like an excellent web app to replace its previous iPad/iPhone app.
The background to the launch of the app is set out in our news story so I’ll skip past that and move on to why I think the FT is one of the few titles which will enjoy any real success with web app.
Loading the FT app for the first time the user is asked to increase the size of the content database. I declined and was rewarded with the news that some content and features will not be available to me.
Fair enough, the space is needed to store content but it’s this request which I think will present a problem for most publishers, all of whom will need to ask users the same question if they’re going to provide a rich experience.
FT readers are likely to be pretty tech savvy people and many will have recourse to an IT department at work who can help them set up the app and reassure them that increasing the database is safe if they have any concerns.
But they are atypical iPad users.
When Steve Jobs took to the stage for Apple’s developer conference yesterday, he confirmed what many of us knew anecdotally – many iPad users are not seasoned, experienced web and PC users and growing numbers of buyers don’t already have a computer.
That’s why Apple are finally allowing devices to be set up and managed without a ‘mothership’ computer and is the reason for introducing cloud-based backups.
These changes will increase the number of iPad users who have previously shied away from computing and who will be VERY wary when venturing online.
Just how likely is it that such novice users are
a) going to click ‘OK’ when asked to change a setting they don’t understand, or
b) input their payment details into a website?
If you’re answering ‘very’ I fear time will prove you wrong.
Why are people who previously shunned the web and computing going online with iPads? Because they hear they’re simple, safe and scam-free.
A decade plus of malware and virus warnings have helped keep these people offline – they’ve heard of pop-ups which ask you to make changes or install software only to then corrupt your system or steal your data.
Why then would they want to click ‘OK’ to your request to add a homepage icon or increase the database? What is a database? They don’t know.
Many are going to be terrified of what might happen and race off back to that safe App Store where everything’s screened.
Inside the App Store you’re a trusted friend of nice Mr Steve. Outside you’re a website with a scary pop-up and a request for credit card details.
As I say, these aren’t concerns FT users will share because they’re IT-literate business professionals. They’re not typical of the millions who will buy an iPad in the next 12 months and that’s why the FT app will work where others won’t.
There’s also the issue of how readers will find out about your magazine.
In the App Store there’s a chance Jobs will smile on you and feature your app on an advert or in an App Store promotional banner. If he does you’ll be sitting pretty at the top of the apps chart for a few days and pocketing the cash.
Outside of that you have to pay for advertising, hosting fees and transaction costs.
Maybe these all come in at less than Apple’s 30% commission but you’re not going to be visible in the single biggest place all iOS users look when they’re thinking how to spend their money.
That’s a serious disadvantage.
Is the higher take per customer really worth the trade-off of fewer potential subscribers? Maybe it is for some.
By the time those who jump the wrong way realise their mistake there’s a good chance that potential subscriber has a collection of back issues from their competitor.
None of the above is a defence of Apple’s 30% commission but, just as the web didn’t bring the end of music publishers and self-publishing won’t kill book publishers, so web apps won’t kill native apps or provide much revenue for most publishers.