Netly: The Third Screen

Archive for the ‘HTML5’ Category

Why hasn’t anyone launched a brilliant, native tablet magazine yet? The opportunity is obvious, and yet no one’s done it.

My dream tab rag would cost 99 cents an issue and occupy the space between blog (low cost, small staff, low-production value, given away for free) and legacy print/iPad magazine (high cost, large staff, high-production value, sold for $3-5 an issue or by subscription.)

Some things it would do:

Be right scaled. Employ a half dozen people—edit, business and tech included—if you want to get to 100,000 paid copies a month. Launch for free and start charging after you get 150,000 users.

Do it in HTML5. Find a lowest-common-denominator design that looks gorgeous on Safari, Chrome, Firefox and IE and keep pushing. HTML5, despite its current shortcomings, is the only answer for a variety of reasons:

  • Your magazine ought to behave like a downloaded app, but it’s really a website. That means the “front porch” is free, daily, bloggy stuff. The rest (i.e. the magazine itself) is published periodically as if it were a pay app.
  • HTML5 can do about 60% of what we can do in a downloadable app. But it’s already good enough to use as a publishing platform and will rapidly improve.
  • You can easily design a small-format version, stripped down for smartphones and a large-format version for tablets (and laptops and desktops.)
  • HTML5 gives you all that crunchy web goodness—it’s searchable, shareable and not controlled by anyone.

Use a lot of video. The iPad, and other LCD tablets in the wings, are much better to look at than read. That’s why Netflix is the killer app on the iPad. While I’m not saying you can’t read stuff on tablets—I’ve read scores of books on both Kindle and iPad—but neither is easier on the eyes than paper. Until we start seeing transflective screens like those being designed by Pixel Qi, video and photos ought to be the bigger part of the mix.

Get the pacing right. No one’s done this yet on a tablet—legacy publishers, for a variety of reasons, are too faithful to the print counterpart. But a page of print turns into 2.5 pages of 10-inch tablet—that changes the rhythm and timing of a publication radically. A native tab mag could be paced naturally.

Be wildly entertaining. Until displays improve, tablet-based entertainment will usually trump information. (See 3., above.)

There’s a huge amount of misunderstanding these days in the open-versus-closed debate. I’m seeing a lot of hand wringing out there among pundits who believe that the rise of apps-fueled devices will somehow mean that information—now so abundant and free—will retreat behind pay walls, and Evil Big Media will plunge us back into the ignorant, can’t-find-it-anymore pre-Web world. Nothing will be shareable. Nothing will be searchable…

Nope, not at all. Or, as Gob used to say in Arrested Development, “Come on!”

As everyone knows, Google, with it’s endless evangelizing of an unfettered Web, is the standard-bearer for open. And Apple, with the rise of it’s highly integrated iConomy (that extends from the A4 chip to iPods/Phones/Pads to the iOS and the the iTunes and App Store) is the champion of the closed system. These two companies are the poles of Techland and appear, at least through the media’s smudgy binoculars, to be engaged in the tech war of the century.

This is the black and white of the dialectic.

In reality, Google and Apple are moving to the same shade of gray, albeit at different speeds: HTML5.

Google, with a fleet of devices running Chrome OS on the horizon, would like to see this migration occur ASAP. Apple, whose Apps are now generating billions in revenue, is not in such a hurry, of course. (Also, Steve Jobs has said that bandwidth is really the biggest impediment to HTML5 taking off within the next five years.)

But I think it’s fair to say that virtually everyone, in both camps, agrees that at some point in the not too distant future, we’ll be able to give consumers the same rich experience in HTML5 that we now associate with downloaded apps. (Sports Illustrated recently showed off a demo of a prototype in HTML5 that’s virtually indistinguishable from the same thing rendered in Objective C.)

For content producers, the advantages of HTML5 are many, including the ability to write once and run anywhere. While the standard is still years from reaching a tipping point and being widely deployed, it counts over 70 million users who run HTML5-compliant browsers such as Chrome and Safari. Another advantage, of course, is that HTML5 “apps” are really just web pages, and as such are searchable and “open.”

Naturally, once we move to HTML5-based content, pay walls will be in place. But everyone’s content will still be “open” to the World Wide Web. Much of it, though, won’t be free.


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