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NZ Herald iPad app
The NZ Herald’s iPad app is among the best examples of its kind

Remember how publishers saw tablets and mobile apps as an opportunity to reboot the online news business? Or Rupert Murdoch describing 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 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.

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

Pew says 60% of tablet users and 61% of smartphone users turn to browsers for reading news. A year ago just 40% of tablet users preferred browsers. That’s a rapid turnaround.

While the number of user who prefer apps is roughly steady at 23%, 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.

My experience as a reader says news apps are often more flawed than web sites. Some 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.

2 thoughts on “Mobile news readers

  1. Interesting to see this, all the apps I have seen have really just been modified browsers with almost no additional functionality. The problem with apps for publishers must be the cost of developing for two, nearly three platforms. It’s bad enough having to cater for different renderings of HTML for each browser.Having to develop, maintain and upgrade three different apps in three different programming languages must be ridiculous.
    The fact that customers are not that fussed about them suggests that apps don’t really have much of a future

    • I’m surprised publishers haven’t found better ways to add value to news apps, for example allowing readers to interact with each other and with journalists.

      Many apps are also underpowered in other ways – try bookmarking a story on most news apps, few allow readers to do this while it’s trivial in a browser.

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