It’s interesting to see more and more media companies and service providers experimenting with HTML5 based web apps instead on special native applications for Android, iOS, Symbian or Windows Phone platforms.
A couple of recent ones I’ve tried and liked are app.ft.com, the new digital edition of the respected Financial Times publication. Another one is read.amazon.com, the cloud service of the Amazon book store. What’s common to these compared to their iOS apps is that Apple won’t get that normal 30 per cent share from their revenues.
The cloud service of Amazon first looks like a quite a traditional web site, but after you have added it as an iPad home screen item, it launches in a very nice app like full-screen mode which also supports offline mode; well supposedly at least, it didn’t work for me yet. The UI has been made about the same as the Kindle client on iOS. The book I purchased from their web app also appeared in my archived e-books on the iOS Kindle client. As far as I know, you can continue reading on Kindle devices too. (Although one limitation is book publishers limit the amount of copies you can have, typically to no more than five devices.)
It was a disappointment to notice the Amazon service didn’t work on a couple of 7-inch Android tablets I tried. The problem could be in some HTML5 elements or that it seems to have been optimised for 10-inch screens. It loads, but then gets stuck at the first welcome screen.
The Playboy magazine has also put all of their issues available online for a monthly subscription. It will open from their normal web address (www.playboy.com) when browsing on iPad. Their web app has a user experience a bit like a separate client, although it feels a little slow to navigate on iPad. I tried it on Android tablets too, but I only got their regular web site.
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So unfortunately it seems obvious the first HTML5 apps are still far from software and device independent, and many of them actually only work on the iOS platform and iPad, a few on iPhone/iPod touch too.
Some of the first HTML5 apps still lack reliable offline reading too. You can’t always rely on having an active connection, and it also consumes too much battery too.
There are quite opposite experiments too. The German tabloid publication Bild (www.bild.de) has totally blocked access to their regular web site on iPad. They recognise iPad by the user agent information sent by the browser and direct users to buy and download their app from Apple App Store. Of course, you can hack your way around this by jailbreaking your device and editing the user agent field, but that’s not a valid option for most people.
It’s also interesting how Microsoft promises to push HTML5 as a tool to build touch applications on their forth-coming desktop, laptop and tablet platform, code named Windows 8 at the moment. To see more, check this YouTube video: Windows 8 introduction and demos in their partner event. Let’s hope they will really keep it device independent and not break compatibility with Windows specific code.
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In Finland, media companies have mostly launched iPad apps of magazines, newspapers and online TV services. The representatives from Finnmedia (The Federation of the Finnish Media Industry. or Viestinnän keskusliitto in Finnish), a lobbying organisation of media companies, have said in a few public seminars they believe more affordable and open tablet devices are needed to really push digital publications and e-books to the mass market. The most affordable 7-inch Android tablets start at less than 200 euros. That’s under a half of Apple iPad. Some 10-inch Android tablets are more affordable too, but a few are surprisingly expensive.
So few tablet devices have yet been sold in Finland, it has made sense to make the first trials on Apple iPad which was the first tablet generally available here. According to operators, Samsung Galaxy Tab has also become quite popular lately. Hopefully that means more support for Android too.
There are a few nice examples of Android apps. The Finnish national broadcasting company Yleisradio has launched their web TV service as an Android app (link to Android Market) before an iPad app. I believe their plan is to build HTML5 based services as soon as possible to avoid having to develop native applications for all the different platforms and their different sub-versions.
The largest newspaper in Finland Helsingin Sanomat has also published an Android app (link to Android Market) allowing their subscribers to the read the full newspaper. However, this app has been optimised for smartphones, so it does not look very nice on a 7-inch tablet.
It’s pretty safe to predict more and more HTML5 sites and apps are going to be launched instead of native apps. How long will this take, probably depends on how well those apps and sites can be made device independent. At the moment there still seem to be problems.