The New York Times Experiments With HTML5

The New York Times was one of the earliest iPad adopters. So early in fact, that they were able to show off their app alongside the device itself at it’s January 2010 introduction. Since then, the New York Times has continued to be an excellent example of print media adopting new and emerging digital platforms.

However, in early October, the New York Times did something a little different. They launched an “experimental” HTML5 web app for select subscribers that could very well replace the native offering in the App Store. Let’s take a look at the New York Times’ release and what it means for web apps as a platform.
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The Controversial Cut

Although the New York Times has went on to deny it, one of the first assumed motivations for such a move regarded Apple’s cut of all earnings made through the App Store. Of course, this includes subscriptions and in-app purchases that impact the publication financially, and Apple doesn’t exactly make it easy for a media outlet to offer an alternative method of subscription, especially to new users.

Apple is known for making it difficult for publishers to get around it's cut of payments through iTunes.

Apple is known for making it difficult for publishers to get around it’s cut of payments through iTunes.

Although a spokesperson for the New York Times said the release “is not an attempt to avoid Apple’s purchase fee,” the financial benefit of subscribers using the web app versus native apps is clear. It might not make such a difference that the less expense afforded to Apple results in lower subscription prices for consumers, but a boost to the NYT’s profit could certainly bolster their commitment to digital platforms, if nothing else.


Perhaps the biggest benefit in pushing subscribers to the web is not actually a benefit for iPad users. By encouraging the web as the dominant platform for digital consumption of their content, the New York Times could more easily release editions suitable for rival platforms, including Android and Windows 8.

Currently, the experiment is limited to the iPad but a spokesperson claims it to be part of their “NYT Everywhere” initiative that has already seen in apps like Flipboard. The strategy is supposed to help the publication better reach mobile platforms and offering the web as an additional option certainly backs this up.

The New York Times' "experiment."

The New York Times’ “experiment.”

In fact, a lot of people do opt for a browser over a native app, myself included. I, alongside many others, prefer to simply load up a website in Safari than have to manage and view content in an entirely separate app. If those users can be met with a better optimised experience when they do so on their iPad, it’s a win-win situation.

Native Apps Are Good Too, Though

The native apps aren’t on their way out, however, there are significant advantages in having something tied into a device, it’s software and it’s ecosystem. Although perhaps not as widely adopted as would have been nice, Newsstand does offer users a convenient, central and, importantly, automatic location for their newspaper and magazine content.

Much like the ease of automatic downloading of iTunes content with iCloud, the automatic and realtime nature of Newsstand allows content to be on par with that fed on the web. Perhaps this is not an advantage to native apps but it’s equally not an advantage for web apps.

The New York Times native iPad app.

The New York Times native iPad app.

Final Thoughts

Native vs web is an extensive debate (one that’s been discussed at length at Web.AppStorm). Fortunately, this experiment looks like it’s more of a broadening of platforms than a culling of them, which will allow for a better experience with the content regardless of your preference for platform.

Are you a New York Times subscriber? What do you think of their web experiment? Share your thoughts in the comments below!