Why Rush for an iPad App? Fortune's New Web App Starts With Your Browser

Web Apps Are on the Rise, but Will Consumers Adopt Them?

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The Fortune500+ web app coming Thursday.
The Fortune500+ web app coming Thursday.

Instead of limiting its next app to one device like the iPad, Fortune magazine has built a new app to run inside web browsers on a variety of platforms. And although the app, called Fortune500+, will only run only on desktop and laptop browsers at first, it will soon run on tablet browsers too.

As a web app, Fortune500+ joins what seems to be a slowly rising tide of apps that run in web browsers instead of the operating systems of particular devices. Magazines, like others, have introduced many apps specifically for the iPad. But magazines have also published a couple of web apps so far, such as Sports Illustrated Snapshot, a free daily photos app that sells extra content, and Skiing Interactive, a free app that updates weekly over the summer and goes daily again in October. "I think you'll see that more and more apps will go this way," said Daniel Roth, managing editor at Fortune.com.

The free version of Fortune500+, a Fortune 500 dashboard and toolkit arriving Thursday with sponsorships from Adobe and the city of Las Vegas, will provide company descriptions and ranks, details on financials and management, customizable stock charts and live related headlines. A premium version priced at $9.99 year will let users view their LinkedIn connections at each company, sort companies by factors like industry and location, and build and share lists.

"It enables users to use all of our reporting in a way we've never done before," Mr. Roth said. "We know people use our information as a tool. Why not actually build a tool for them?"

Fortune expects to release "native" app versions of Fortune500+ for specific devices by the end of this year, but wanted to tweak the code it built for the web rather than write different programs for several systems at once. And this way it starts off with the widest potential audience: Not everyone has an iPad, but just about everyone uses a web browser.

Publishing and selling web apps also means developers don't have to worry about getting Apple's approval for its App Store or giving Apple a cut of any sales. But Fortune and others said the internet's pervasive reach is web apps' main appeal.

"The great thing about the web is it's very portable and it runs everywhere," said Brian Rakowski, director of product management for Chrome at Google. The Chrome Web Store, which opened in December, now stocks about 3,700 web apps like TweetDeck, USA Today and HuffingtonPost NewsGlide.

"There's nothing special about the technology behind the apps," Mr. Rakowski said. "It's all standard technology that will work in any modern browser."

But it isn't clear how fully or quickly consumers will adopt web apps, which they might, among other things, take for "regular" websites. And web apps have limits, said Raven Zachary, president of Small Society, an app developer for iPad, iPhone and iPod Touch.

"There's something compelling to publishers to say let's just do a web-based publication and it will work across all these tablets," Mr. Zachary said. "The problem is it doesn't take full advantage of each individual platform. You end up with a mediocre product across all platforms as opposed to a superior product on individual platforms."

Some observers predict web apps will outshine native apps for specific platforms by 2013, Mr. Zachary said. It will happen, he predicted, but closer to 2018.

For the moment, platform-specific app stores are still on a tear. Combined revenue from Apple's App Store, Google's Android Market, BlackBerry's App World and Nokia's Ovi Store will surge 77.7% this year to $3.8 billion, up from $2.1 billion in 2010 and $206 million in 2008, according to IHS Screen Digest research released on Tuesday.

Explainer: What Makes it a Web App, Anyway?

  • Unlike "native" apps found in Apple's App Store and Google's Android Market, web apps work on a variety of platforms by running inside the web browser.

  • Unlike websites, web apps typically send information down to be stored locally, making some of their operations faster than websites and less dependent on live internet connections.

  • Web apps are available directly from publishers and don't require distribution through an App Store or Android Market, although Google did introduce a Chrome Web Store site that helps internet users find apps for the Chrome browser.

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