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The Atlantic Places Another Bet on Apps

Atlantic Wire launches HTML5 site, may pull its iPhone app
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As publishers wrestle with whether to deliver their digital content in an app or Web-based browser, the browser is gathering momentum.

The Atlantic today announced the launch of a tablet-optimized HTML5 site for The Atlantic Wire, its news and pop-culture site. And according to The Atlantic president Scott Havens, the new Web app could eventually replace the site's iPhone app.

In recent years, magazine publishers put their weight behind developing native apps for smartphones and tablets. But as mobile-optimized web apps—namely, the HTML5 sites being used by Men's Journal, The Economist, and Hearst—become more advanced, publishers seem to be questioning whether it’s worthwhile to keep offering native apps at all.

Take Condé Nast, which shuttered Gourmet magazine back in 2009 but kept the brand alive in the form of the Gourmet Live app. Now, Condé says it will no longer update the app in favor of publishing new content on Gourmet.com only. 

The Atlantic announcement follows Havens’ telling Forbes last week that the brand was planning to overhaul its tablet products. Currently, the company's app strategy includes more native than Web, with an Atlantic magazine mobile app, Atlantic Wire iPhone app, and very basic mobile versions of all of The Atlantic’s websites. Meanwhile, the Atlantic Media-owned business site Quartz took the opposite approach when it launched last year, offering an HTML5 Web app and no native app.

While Havens told Adweek that The Atlantic is planning to invest more time and effort in its current native magazine app, the larger strategy appears to be built around HTML5.

“We’re going to explore this native versus Web app debate, which is part of the reason that we’re testing out the HTML5 app with the Wire,” said Havens, who also mentioned that Atlantic Cities could soon get its own similar Web app. As for whether a native app is in Quartz's future, that's "still TBD," said Havens. "We’re not sure it’s necessary, frankly.”

Still, Havens said there are limits in abandoning native apps entirely. Apple’s App Store “has incredible reach and discovery, and it’s hard to not want to be there,” he said. Placing an Atlantic icon on readers' home screens—which happens automatically when downloading native apps but must be done manually with an HTML5 app—is also important. Plus, “there are some things that will never be good in HTML5, period,” said Havens.

Ultimately, whether any brand decides to go with a Web or native app strategy depends on the reader experience, said Havens.

“If the native experience is the same as the HTML5 or Web app experience, then I think the Web app makes a ton of sense,” he said. “But if the functionality is not there, I think it will behoove a brand like ours to offer both for different times and different environments.”