The FT web app
The FT was the first major publisher to adopt a pure web technologies solution for optimising the reading experience for mobile users on touch-screen devices. Today, the FT web app is still one of the world’s most advanced uses of web technologies in digital publishing, and continues to prove our belief that the web is still the future of digital content, on any platform.
Rather than being asked to visit an app store to download an app to their phone, FT readers are simply invited to visit app.ft.com in the browser on their mobile device. The app then loads and displays in the browser and the reader can interact with it just as they would an ordinary website.
In fact, the app is a website, but one that is designed to better cater for the form factor and interface technology of the device used to access it. As smartphones have become more popular, publishers have collectively struggled to understand how to deliver content to readers on these devices. Native apps arrived and appeared to be the solution, but mainly because they offered a great user experience that married a design that was perfectly designed to fit the phone, with an interface designed to be touched. However, we can do both of those things with web technologies, so there is actually no need to create apps at all.
It’s easier to build nice touch-optimised interfaces using native technologies, but sticking with the web provides many other benefits:
- We can release updates instantly, without readers having to visit the app store
- We are not subject to any rules or restrictions that might be applied by app store operators as a condition of entry into the store.
- Our articles can have URLs, so we can link to articles directly from elsewhere on the web. Eventually, a single responsive site could have a one URL for an article regardless of which platform you’re on.
- We can deploy exactly the same code to every browser, on every device. We don’t have to build a separate app for each platform.
Right now, some platforms don’t have a browser that is good enough to display the web app without assistance, so we distribute a native app that effectively wraps the web app with an upgraded browser. As features are built into the default browser, we will have to do less and less in the native app, and ultimately we aim to have no platform specific native components to our web app at all.
The web app has made significant advances in the use of HTML5 technologies. We blog and talk about our experiences regularly. See the blog or follow us on twitter for more detailed technical posts and news of when and where we’re going to be.