Thursday, February 17, 2011

The Daily, iPad, and Apps ...or Web browsing with HTML5 -- Which paradigm?

The appearance of  The Daily from News Corp. is seen as a big step in the online journalism business, as described in a WSJ article.

I played with it briefly and it brings me back to some key questions about the future of media.  It will be very interesting to see how it does.  There are a range of important issues, and here are some impressions.

The interesting business issue is how app models are seen as a last chance to give publishers another bite at the monetization apple (pun intended) vs. free Web content.  This depends to some extent on whether Apple and other app stores let publishers keep enough money and enough control of the customer relationship (which Apple clearly hates to do, but Google is more open to).  But with HTML5 Web apps as alternative, that may become a harder sell than Murdoch now hopes.

Underlying this is the big technology question of whether the app fad loses out to HTML5 Web browsing.  In many respects, the app/widget model is a giant step backward.  Pre Web, there were "apps" for every online service, and they were all unique and non-interoperable with a clutter of invocations and divergent UIs.  The Web/browser brought a "World Wide Web" of consistency and interoperability that still enabled flexibility and varying look/feel.  A key issue is how to benefit from apps/widgets without going back to another age of islands and silos?  I built some of the first pre-Web publisher "apps" for TV Guide (hello again News Corp), Golf Magazine, Sierra, and others in the early '90s, and saw first hand how much the Web simplified things for both publishers and users.

The question is why bother downloading apps, when it seems HTML5 will soon give pretty much the same UI with no download?  Most of the current UI benefits of apps will soon go away.  The lasting benefit of the app store is central merchandising/sales (and a home page UI), and as Google shows with their Web app store, this can be done as little more than a Web site.  A few useful links are an Engadget article, the Chrome Webstore, and its FAQ.

Check out NY Times and SI Snapshot Chrome apps for an app-like experience in a browser, with little or nothing to download.  The NYTimes chrome site actually runs in Safari on the iPad and looks/acts much like the iPad app (but seems to give a different content mix).  The only essential thing the app store really adds is the home page array of icons (and maybe a different way to get people to pay).

I will bet on the browser.  It offers the best overall and most open user-centered experience.  And I think there are other ways to solve the monetization problem.  (One in particular is my FairPay pricing process, with an example of usage for a newspaper on my FairPay Zone blog.)

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