FT app blends features of print, Web
By Charlotte Woolard
The Financial Times responded to the demands of tablet customers last month, rolling out a redesigned Web app that allows readers to choose between a static edition with a fixed article set or a dynamic edition with a continuously updated content stream.
The app enables readers to swipe left to right to move between articles, a printlike experience that allows the publisher to tuck in full-page advertisements that have become top revenue generators on the mobile platform. Users who want to read an article scroll down the page.
“We've changed the design language of the app,” said Stephen Pinches, Financial Times group product manager-emerging technology. “We've moved from more of a Web-like experience, where you can scroll up and down the page, to a fixed height. It sounds like a small change, but it really changes the metaphor a bit. It feels more like a newspaper.”
Not all of the changes move the app closer to the print experience, however. The redesign introduces MyFT, a personalized page where users can store clippings and access article recommendations that reflect their digital behaviors.
The new app features more rich content, including full-screen slideshows and inline video.
The Financial Times first rolled out its Web app in June 2011, becoming the first major news outlet to build its mobile platform using responsive design. The approach creates production efficiencies, allowing content to be produced once and delivered across the growing spectrum of mobile devices.
Mobile accounts for 30% of the Financial Times' traffic, and subscribers are more active on the channel than the registered users who choose free access to a limited number of articles, Pinches said.
The Financial Times links the back end of its Web app to its website, allowing users to move between the platforms seamlessly and also enabling the publisher to provide a complete picture of ad performance. “We can get a clear picture of campaigns that move cross-platform,” Pinches said.
The company became one of the first to handle full-page HTML5 ads, he said. The format presents challenges for advertisers that often are not accustomed to building creative using responsive design.
“The ad ecosystem is still very fragmented,” Pinches said. “Advertisers are facing a huge challenge. The big question is how responsive [ads] should be and how [ads] should scale to different-size screens.”
The number of full-page ads within the Financial Times app has increased, and the new design makes the ads more visible. The left-or-right swiping feature has also contributed to an initial spike in the number of article views, as well as the ads embedded in their midst.
“We're seeing a lot more people looking at a wider range of articles,” said MB Christie, director-online product management. She said it is too early to share metrics, however, because users who are experimenting with the new design may be skewing performance.
The redesigned app is currently available for the iPad, but the company plans to roll out updates for iPhone, Windows 8 and Android users later this year.