Why Zmags Mobile Viewer Will Become Browser-Based

When we decided to create a Mobile Viewer in Zmags, one of the most important choices to make was whether the solution should be app- or browser-based. Should digital publications be available as downloadable apps, or through the native browser on the device?

We analyzed the situation and came to a clear conclusion: While app-based readers provide many useful options for Zmags customers, the browser-based solution holds key advantages that can’t be ignored.

The Zmags Mobile Viewer will be a browser-based solution – here’s why.

Creating reach for our customers is a key mission for Zmags
Making digital publications immediately available to readers on the move is of immense value to both readers and Zmags customers alike. Many of the arguments for a browser-based reader have to do with maximizing your reach.

A web-based mobile reader has lower entry-barriers than an app
It’s a simple tech argument: The browser is preinstalled, your app is not. To get to the app, several steps must be taken: Go to the app store, search for the app you want (you need to know the name beforehand), click it, enter password, wait for download, wait for install – and you’re off. Now, this can be a speedy process, depending on how tech-savvy the reader is. But no matter how you look at it, clicking a link on a website is a much simpler process.

A key advantage of having your digital publication available in the browser is the instant access that readers will experience. No need to download and install an app. Simply place a link on your website or place it in a newsletter, and your readers will have instant access to the mobile version of your publication.

The importance of links
It sounds almost archaic in this web 3.0 world to be talking about the importance of hyperlinks. But none the less, this basic element of the web is still today what ties it all together. Sharing interesting content among friends is key. It’s an often over-looked fact that mobile apps provide no global system for sharing content outside themselves or deep-linking. With apps, you’ve left the sharing to those already in the know who have the app installed. Those who don’t – the ones that you are most interested in reaching – face the high entry barrier discussed earlier, before they can get in on the fun.

Expanded visibility with e-readers for mobile devices
App stores today, be it Apple’s or Android’s, are struggling with their own success. The number of apps available (140,000 and counting for Apple) makes shelf-space an asset in free-fall. In the golden days of the app stores, simply being there would bring you eyeballs – today, you’ll be one in a crowd. Not that the Internet is any better – with hundreds of millions of websites out there competing for eyeballs and revenue, it’s tough to attract attention. But with search engines, we have a mature system for directing the traffic. Search engine visibility can be developed when your solution lives in the browser – not so with an app.

App stores are walled gardens
Apple’s unpredictable and dimly lit policies on what content is allowed and what is not allowed highlights a major problem for app developers: You are not in control of your distribution. You are subject to an approval process which at best is slow and strict, at worst unpredictable and censoring. Not so in the browser.

Browser-based mobile viewers are a better match across platforms
Developing apps is unfortunately a platform-specific game. They only work on specific devices. Today, the map is relatively easy to chart with iPhone OS, Android OS, Web OS, Symbian and RIM OS. But other operating systems are on the way, with even more fragmentation to come.

To make matters worse, open source OSs like Android present a particular challenge. Since Android is open source, you now see a plethora or variations of the OS from mobile operators and handset manufacturers, adjusting Android to their devices and wreaking havoc in the app development community. Your app may work on one Android phone, but not another.

Browsers also come in different flavors. But the protocols, formats and web standards provide a mature framework to develop within.

I’ve seen some impressive app-based readers, especially on the iPad. With apps, you can do great things in terms of navigation as well as look and feel. There’s no doubt that app-based publishing has advantages and will continue to grow. It’s important not to see the two solutions as mutually exclusive. But your readers start out in the browser, and it’s of utmost importance to have attractive and valuable content right there and then if you are to keep your readers as readers. That’s why we started out there when creating our Mobile Viewer.