Christopher Mims

A View from Christopher Mims

Forget Custom iPad Magazines: Onswipe Turns Any Site Into One

The days of iPad content apps in app stores are numbered, if HTML 5 is up to the task of delivering an app-like experience in the browser

  • May 2, 2011

Onswipe does something web developers should have been racing to accomplish ever since the iPad was first unveiled: it makes a website – any website – into a tablet-friendly experience. (It’s already available to everyone who publishes their blog on Wordpress.com.) It uses HTML5 to make a site feel like an app, even though it’s running in the browser.

Onswipe points to a future of tablet media delivery that is incredibly simple, even boring: Websites that are designed to look good on tablets. Given the history of creating alternate designs for sites in order to make them mobile-friendly, why anyone ever imagined it would be otherwise is baffling. Probably, it was wishful thinking.

IPad magazine app sales are tanking. Media aggregation apps like Flipboard and Zite are re-atomizing publishers’ content into pleasurable, full-screen, mostly ad-free experiences. The great do-over that tablets were to represent for publishers like Condé Nast – a chance to put the free-content genie back in the bottle, and charge for admission – appears to have gone bust.

Onswipe and the startups that will inevitably follow in its wake are the final nail in the coffin of the dream of appification of magazines and other media content.

Until and unless publishers come up with content so sophisticated, interactive and compelling that it demands to be downloaded in advance, and simply must be run in native Java (Android) or Objective C (iOS), there simply won’t be any reason for them to build app versions of their content that will live in the iTunes store, unless it’s a compulsive desire for some kind of completeness.

What’s more, Apple, at least, appears to be actively driving publishers out of its app store with its high tolls and inflexibility in the face of publishers’ needs to gather and control user information.

With OnSwipe, or the custom implementations of it that will inevitably follow, content that already lives on the web simply becomes tablet friendly. The company rounds up a compelling list of 9 reasons why content is best in the browser, anyway: chief among them is that content is exchanged through the web, and sequestering it in a walled garden kills its shareability, and therefore whatever traffic would have been driven to it.

(Also notable is the fact that sticking with the web gets around the issue of developing for multiple devices and screen sizes – two of the issues that are headaches even for seasoned app developers, much less tech-lite media companies.)

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