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NYT Web Piece on Mobile Outperforming Web Demonstrates Own Conclusion

NYTimes.com has a piece from Wednesday about several popular mobile apps that are better than their “parent” websites (using Zillow and Yelp as examples). What struck me when I first opened the page on my laptop after following a link to it on Twitter was how the NYTimes.com web experience stacks up to their own mobile app.

Many critics of smartphone reading lament the relatively small screen real estate, but a look at how a site like NYTimes.com actually uses the extra real estate a laptop browser offers is instructive:

Screen shot 2010-03-12 at 12.10.30 PM

I count about 50 words from the story visible on that page, with most of the screen taken up by navigation, ads, and whitespace.

Looking at a similar article on the NYT iPhone app, you actually get more of the article text (more than 70 words) before you have to scroll down:

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Having a larger screen size is only an improvement if you actually take advantage of the larger screen size (conversely, the smaller screen of a smartphone imposes constraints that result in a much better reading experience).

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  • http://www.polinum.net Alain Pierrot

    Good point!

    But is it really linked to the devices, web vs. mobile, or only to a poor design on the web, while the scarce space constrained the mobile designers to be simply relevant?

    Actually, I think we should emphasize that ‘content’ publishers must invest some ressources in order to fine tune their products, rendering device by rendering device. Automated formatting can’t take advantage of every platform opportunities nor palliate their deficiencies or constraints.

    Any publisher who can afford to invest in some device-specific design will have a serious competitive advantage on those who just dump their ‘content’ without discrimination.

  • http://www.artesianmedia.com Dave LaFontaine

    In response to Alain: yes, the “shovelware” model for content migration has been tried with predictably dismal results by newspapers (the industry I’ve been working in/with/for). The issue of which functionalities you can build in that attract the audience, without having to invest so much that you’re losing money is still pending, however.

    Insofar as the superiority of the mobile model: yes, it does contain more words, if that is what you use as your metric. However, if you’re applying the blanket judgment of “Better” – then I think a couple of other points also need to be taken into consideration. 1) The mobile version has no ads visible. So there goes that revenue model, eh? 2) If all you’re interested in is the information in the article, yes, an ultra-streamlined experience like the one shown is probably superior. But a lot of where the value lies with news is with the other elements of a newspaper – studies by the NAA show that readers prefer the editions with ads. They consider the ads to be part of the content that they want – they want to see what sales are going on, what new products are on the market, what the president of Toyota is trotting out this week as an explanation and full-page signed pledge…

    Don’t get me wrong. I like the NYTimes app on my iPhone and use it several times a week. But the element mix in the design for the web page obeys the needs & wants of the web ecosystem, while that of mobile does the same. Mobile web design is such a new discipline that we’re all still groping for what constitute “useful” practices; it’s a little premature to anoint something as either “better” or “best” at this point, I think.