Sign Of The Times: The New York Times Debuts An HTML5 Web App For iPad

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The New York Times this morning announced a new HTML5 web app for iPad, rounding out their lineup of web and tablet products for digital subscribers. The Times is soliciting feedback from its users about the app and its features, which suggests that it’s looking at this as a way to experiment with a non-native delivery method, but isn’t quite sure about how consumers will respond.

This move by the NYT couldn’t be more timely. We’ve just seen the release of a survey from indicating that mobile news consumption is moving from apps to the web, a trend which may be ratcheting up along with the changing picture of the tablet market, which shows that the iPad’s majority reach could be giving up some ground to Android competitors, though that’s disputed by other claims. Whatever the actual numbers, with fresh new low-cost Amazon tablets hitting the market, we could be at an inflection point for web apps that serve different kinds of devices.

Still, at the same time, the NYT is clearly promoting this as an iPad-specific venture. According to the press release, it’s been “formatted for optimal reading on the iPad,” and installation instructions include going to app.NYTimes.com via Safari on iPad. They’re going out of their way to ensure that people still see this as an iPad product, but it represents one they can control.

This looks a lot like a company realizing that it’s giving up too much control over its financial future to another company. You don’t have to look far for an analogue: Apple essentially did the same with Google and Google Maps under iOS 6. But it’s risky for publishers, since we’ve seen what Apple’s Newsstand can provide in terms of a digital subscriber bump. Future reports that Newsstand has helped tremendously with its digital magazine publishing business, for instance.

But others have also left the Newsstand nest and tried to strike out on their own. The Financial Times introduced a web app in June 2011, and has since seen its subscriber base climb to outnumber print, with 2.7 million users accessing their content via the web app as of July. Watching that progress has probably encouraged the NYT to make this move. And should it also continue to see digital growth, as well as achieve ownership over a greater percentage of resulting revenues, we may see HTML5 become the vector of choice for more news organizations.