FT launches first major HTML5 mobile news app

by Andrew Betts,

This post was originally made on the Assanka blog. Assanka was acquired by the Financial Times in January 2012, and became what is now FT Labs. Learn more.

Today we’re delighted to announce the launch of the new Financial Times HTML5 web app. The FT is the world’s first major news organisation to launch a pure web app with native like experience. Initially optimised for the iPad and iPhone, it will soon be available for users of Android, Blackberry and other smartphones and tablets.

Here’s a flavour of what you get from the new FT web app, and remember this is built entirely using web technology, with no plugins or native code:

Assanka firmly believes that the craze for native apps is a short one and we are already seeing it on the wane. Native apps, which need to be distributed via a proprietary app store controlled by an operator or device manufacturer, also suffer from being restricted to the platform for which they are built, necessitating an almost complete rewrite for each different platform. Maintaining separate, functionally equivalent apps for Android, iOS, Blackberry OS6, Playbook, WebOS AND Windows Phone is an expensive and time consuming business, something that major publishers realise only too well.

Native apps have other limitations too. Web technology has matured over 15 years to provide a rich set of tools for making web applications that are open, accessible and linkable. The very ethos of web development is that it is fundamentally an open platform, inviting integration, connecting, linking and sharing of information. Native apps construct a silo around themselves and operate in their own artificially constructed world. Everything in that world may be beautiful and the user experience may be dazzling, but the value is locked into that container.

Native apps will always have a place on mobile devices, particularly for applications such as gaming where the performance demands are high and graphics requirements are intensive. Games often also take advantage of features such as accelerometers which are not (yet) available to access from web applications. For apps that need to take advantage of bleeding edge technology and offer exceptional performance, native code is still a good option. But for news and magazine publishers, the tide is turning.

We were given a great opportunity by the Financial Times to create an app that would set the standard for publishers looking at HTML5. In the process, we solved entirely new technical problems, and we’ll be putting up a lot of detail about some of the engineering that enables us to achieve such a high quality user experience in the browser over the coming weeks.

In the meantime, Steve Pinches, FT’s lead Product Development Manager, is happy with the result:

Together, the FT and Assanka teams have created an impressive product and one that has positioned the FT at the forefront of mobile development in the publishing industry. The initial feedback on the app from FT readers has been extremely positive and we look forward to rolling the app out to a broader range of devices and platforms.

Being first to the punch is always newsworthy, but we’re delighted by the coverage the app has received. As I write this a couple of hours after launch, we’ve seen some great stories in Techcrunch, the BBC, paidContent, Newsonomics, Reuters, the Washington Post, and the Guardian, and that lovely chap Rory Cellen Jones at the BBC tweeted about it, prompting a storm of retweets and a lot of enthusiasm for the app.

The FT is offering free access to FT.com via the app for the first week, so head on over to app.ft.com on an iPad or iPhone to check it out for yourself.