A Look at the Future of Mobile Content

Marijn Deurloo

Last week, we had the pleasure of attending PaidContent Live in New York. The conference is the place to be for folks in the media businesses, with big names like Tumblr’s David Karp and Alan Rusbridger from The Guardian taking center stage.

Topics like open journalism, native advertising and the evolution of the book business made for some interesting discussions. But perhaps the most compelling and relevant panel, in our opinion that is, revolved around the future of mobile content. In this panel, PaidContent’s Jeff Roberts, ESPN’s Ryan Spoon, Vimeo’s Nick Alt and Jason Pontin from MIT Technology Review debate if native apps or web apps are the future of mobile publishing. This debate has been going on for years now and the overarching conclusion always seems to be, it depends. Here’s what we learned from this and other discussions on the subject:

You can do some pretty awesome stuff with HTML5 and, of course, everyone will probably agree that it’s only a matter of time until it becomes a true standard. A clear advantage of opting for web is also that you get to keep that 30% of revenue that gets claimed from Apple’s App Store. If you’re an established publication like MIT Technology review with limited development power, HTML5 may also be your best bet to build a cross-platform experience on mobile.

However, as most people in the media space with a technical background will tell you, HTML5 is simply not there yet. In addition, while HTML5 is normally seen as one-size fits all approach, this is often far from the case – as parties like Facebook have experienced. Mimicking the UI of the local device on an HTML5 app rarely does the trick. For the end user, this experience just doesn’t feel right.

Making your HTML5 application “discoverable” is also a much bigger challenge on web that it would be on the App Store or Google Play, as ESPN’s Ryan Spoon pointed out. Many publishers, Vimeo’s Alt among them, have also pointed out that engagement rates are much higher on native apps. Moreover, HTML5 applications typically have slower and poorer performance, and features like offline reading are nearly impossible to support.

So, is the answer to go native and then “act global?” Perhaps it’s a combination of both. There’s no reason why your apps can’t be a healthy hybrid. Building apps for a specific platform always enables you to take advantage of each device’s capabilities and allows for a smoother user experience. But there are also “hybrid” technologies you can employ to optimize that experience, as our development team has discovered. Our apps, for instance, use HTML5 to present articles in a full-screen format on the device’s browser, allowing for a fluid and comfortable reading experience.

For more on this discussion check out this interesting slide deck on Business Insider or watch the PaidContent panel recording below.

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