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Mobile news readers

Remember how publishers saw tablets and mobile apps as an opportunity to reboot the online news business? Or when Rupert Murdoch described Apple’s iPad as the newspaper industry’s saviour?

They had a point.

The latest numbers from the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism (no longer online) show readers who use apps to get news are more attractive customers in every regard.

They read more news than others, they choose a wider range of news sources, they read longer and in greater depth. They are even more prepared to pay for online news.

It is not about apps

There’s just one problem. Only a fraction of tablet and phone users rely on apps for news and their numbers are falling. Most tablet and phone owners prefer getting news from browsers.

Pew says 60 per cent of tablet users and 61 per cent of smartphone users turn to browsers for reading news. A year ago just 40 per cent of tablet users preferred browsers.

That’s a rapid turnaround.

While the number of user who prefer apps is roughly steady at 23 per cent, the number of users who choose both apps and browsers and halved.

There’s a marked difference between iPad users and those with Android tablets – most of those who still prefer apps are Apple customers. With Android’s market share increasing, it looks as if those news apps are likely to decline still further.

Experience as a reader says news apps are often more flawed than web sites. Some apps limit what you can access, others are buggy, many are slow. On the other hand they tend to look better and are better for displaying photographs.