With the release of our free new app, The Tyee has officially entered 2009!
So, yes. We're a little behind the rest of the publishing world with this. But we're proud to say that the wait allowed us to build a FREE app for iPhones (and more phones soon!) that meets the standards of the open web. And did we mention... it's FREE?
No download required. And you won't find it in the app store.
Just open your iPhone's web browser, go to "app.thetyee.ca," and then save the page to your home screen. (The app will prompt you to do so the first time you access it.)
This puts the icon on your phone's desktop for easy future access.
Free to download. Easy to use. We hope you like it.
(Note that it works on iPads, too, but we haven't optimized it for that platform at all.)
What about my Android-powered phone?
We're getting there. We hope to have support for Android-powered phones soon and possibly, if we can work through some performance issues, we hope to support the Blackberry Torch, also.
We chose to focus on Apple devices because thus far the overwhelming majority of mobile readers view us with that phone. More than 80 per cent of our visitors most months come from an Apple device. Compare that with roughly 10 per cent from Androids, 5 per cent from Blackberry devices, and less than 5 per cent for all other mobile devices combined.
Which bring us to an interesting point about the guts of our app and why we'll be able to roll the same app out to multiple platforms in time: our technical guru, Phillip Smith, built it with a protocol called HTML5.
As Matt Marshall describes it in his article, How HTML5 Will Kill the Native App:
"HTML5 is so-called because it is the fifth generation of HyperText Markup Language, which is the coding language used to create web pages. By distributing over a web browser via fast, new mobile networks, HTML5 gets to bypass much of a phone's underlying "iron," or the chips, graphical cards and other components -- all things that native apps rely on. Most phones being sold today have modern browsers that will operate on super fast 4g or LTE networks -- the sort of thing that the HTML5 technology needs to thrive. Thus, as HTML5 advances (developers are working hard to improve it), companies will no longer need to build native apps."
This is significant for two reasons:
One, if we were to have built what developers called a "native" app (as opposed to a web app using HTML5), we would have had to have built a different app for every style of smart phone. It means multiple development teams, multiple code bases, and much more maintenance headaches. Which all adds up to: expensive.
Two, because we're in essence creating an enhanced web page, and because web browsers are designed to adhere to open standards, any touchscreen phone (in theory) with a browser should at some point be able to use our app. We're not there yet but we're close. Not only is this cheaper, but it aligns with existing principles of the open web, which means more accessible and democratic conversations.
How open standards can lead to democracy
Back in 2003 when The Tyee first opened its cyber-doors, if you built a website, you could be sure it would work on most browsers on most computers. This democratization of publishing was in some ways unprecedented. Suddenly, your online distribution platform rivaled that of any large publisher.
As a result, new voices emerged along with The Tyee. Rabble, Truthout, Alternet, Salon, not to mention the thousands of fantastic bloggers. The mainstream media was slow to adapt and thus lost some of their stranglehold on the heights of the publishing economy.
That level distribution playing field wasn't always a given. In the '90s there was a nasty fight between browsers that were attempting to create proprietary and closed systems (hello, Internet Explorer) and those that pushed for open standards, (hello, Mozilla).
And now with mobile apps, we're in the same kind of fight. To build a native app means building a closed, proprietary application. It's expensive, difficult to maintain, and forces you to distribute through a channel that someone else controls (the Apple app store, for example).
But HTML5 offers hope for a cross-platform, low-cost, open and more democratic systems.
A tour of the app
But enough theory. Let's get back to the app.
Watch the video above and you'll see it's a solid, no-frills reader that, like most news apps, offers a variety of ways to slice through the our stories.
The Latest page lists our most recent content by category. The Topic page lists our latest content by topic.
Save a story for later reading by clicking the boxed arrow in the top right corner of a story. This puts it in a list of stories on the Saved page, and remains available even when offline.
Unlike other apps, when you search for content through our search tool, you are actually searching the entire Tyee archive of stories. In other words, you have the entire Tyee in the palm of your hand.
Could we have done more? Sure. You should see the list of features we didn't have the time or money to tackle.
But this is our first iteration, a useful work in progress that we wanted to get into your hands so you can help decide what features and fixes should go into iteration two. In software development terms, we're in the beta phase and we need your feedback.
So, please, use it and tell us what you like. Tell us what you hate. Tell us what you'd like to see us do next.
In fact, we've decided to make the app source code open source, too. You can find it here: Github. Feel free to check it out, work with it and submit patches back to us. We'd love the help. Or you could just steal the code and make something even better. In the end, it will make us all better.
What about non-touchscreen phones?
We haven't forgotten about you. While currently a very small percentage of our mobile readers, it's important for us to support non-touchscreen phones, too.
Our plan in the next year is to create a more streamlined version of our website that is easy for non-touchscreen phones to navigate. More on that as our strategy evolves.
Many thanks go to Phillip Smith and Greg Heo for their tireless work and guidance on this project.
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