FT Sidesteps Apple App Store, Albeit Gingerly – Will Other Devs Follow?

FT Sidesteps Apple App Store, Albeit Gingerly – Will Other Devs Follow?

fsmallt_0The Financial Times, on the heels of Apple's big iCloud announcement, has begun the process of emancipating its content from the Cupertino computer maker.

Instead offering its mobile app through Apple's App Store — a privilege it pays Apple 30 percent of its earnings for — on June 7 FT began offering an HTML5-based FT Web App, which behaves like the old iTunes-offered app but lets FT interact directly with its readers, instead of through the sharp-elbowed middleman, Apple.

Apple also stands between content-makers and their readers by keeping credit card information and other subscriber data to itself. But while a number of publishers have been unhappy about Apple's role — which is poised to become more aggressive, with new rules, announced in February, activating this month — FT is the first major publisher to try to step around Apple.

FT Chief Executive John Ridding, in June 7 report in the publication, insisted, “This is not about Apple. It’s about our readers and making sure they have a consistent experience.”

FT is reportedly still talking to Apple about the terms of selling subscriptions through iTunes, according to an FT spokesperson, and according to managing director Rob Grimshaw, FT has "no plans to pull out of any apps stores." Though this is inconsistent with a new FT YouTube ad that intones, in creamy Brit-speak, "The FT app is moving."

London-based tech analyst Benedict Evans, in a June 7 blog post, called the new FT app, at a glance, an "impressive technical achievement" that will save FT time and trouble.

"Rather that coding a native app for every platform (and then maintaining that knowledge base), they can run one or two core products and tweak separate versions of the same code base for different devices," Evans continued. "They won’t be able to use quite the same code for all devices (HTML5 is no more the same on all devices than J2ME was), but this will make life easier."

There's of course also that 30 percent fee FT will be pocketing.

Is FT setting an example for other disgruntled — or if not disgruntled then concerned, if you believe Ridding — publishers?

"As much as a company has any strength beyond Apple's reach, they're going to exercise it," Roger Kay, principal analyst with Endpoint Technologies, told Mobile Dev Pro.

Kay pointed out the double-edged sword that is Apple — "Apple has a cool, easy-to-use environment, but then you have these lock-in issues" — as well as the reasons that FT's lead may not be one that other publishers can follow. These include the facts that FT is geared toward businesses and based outside of the United States, while Apple is heavily U.S- and consumer focused.

Technology Business Research Analyst Ken Hyers says that FT — which is likely also motivated by a desire to have a customer relationship not mediated by Apple, "which has its own rules governing media subscription" — is also in the unique position of offering content so valuable that it's been successful in getting readers to pay for it.

"This means that the FT can ask its customers to use a Web-based app to access content, and since using that app is as easy as using the app provided through the iTunes store, it will probably be successful in migrating those customers to the new app," Hyers told Mobile Dev Pro. "Few other publishers have the strength to make such a unilateral decision."

For many, the distribution model provided by the App Store is well worth the 30 percent tithe — that is, if readers can find them in Apple's densely stocked warehouse.

"The flipside is, do you have the skill and the ability to better manage it yourself? FT may think, 'We have that, and we know how to reach people.' ... They may also have a lot of programming talent," said Kay. "But not everybody's going to have access to such things. If you're Joe Nobody, you may be better off sticking with Apple."


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