Hotly anticipated by the news media industry since it was first proposed as a rival for The Economist and The Financial Times, Atlantic Media’s new online business magazine Quartz finally went live yesterday. The launch was always going to be a closely scrutinised affair thanks to Quartz’s mobile-first, digital-only direction, and journalists have been quick to highlight the publication’s decision to shun native apps in favour of an app-like site.
A simple, uncluttered homepage greets visitors to qz.com. Rejecting the much-adhered-to practice of producing news website layouts that resemble newspaper front pages, Quartz features a single story on its main page with a bar on the left side of the screen that leads readers to "top," "latest" and "popular" stories. The navigation bar at the top of the screen is, as promised, categorised according to "phenomena," "not beats."
As is made strikingly clear by its design, the online publication is, first and foremost, intended to be viewed via mobile phone and tablet devices. Interviewed by Lean Back 2.0, Quartz’s Editor-in-Chief Kevin Delaney revealed the three reasons for this mobile-first focus: “One, the data is very clear that the user base for the devices is large and growing quickly... Secondly, we’re hoping to build a service and news product for global business leaders, and one of the defining attributes of these global leaders is that they are incredibly mobile…Lastly, there are tremendous opportunities for innovation on mobile and tablet platforms. In terms of the user interface, we’re really at the beginning of the road for user interfaces for news consumption.”
For most digital news products, a desire to target the mobile market would normally mean that an Android/ iPad friendly app is revealed in conjunction with the website. Quartz however has decided that its interests lie elsewhere – on our old friend the Internet. Instead of obliging readers to download applications individually tailored to a particular tablet or smartphone, the magazine is accessible through any Internet browser on any device. Its responsive design means that the site automatically reformats to fit whatever platform is used to view it, be it Blackberry, Android, iPad or Windows.
With the sole website model, neither time nor money need be spent on developing tablet or mobile friendly versions of the magazine and changes can be made without being approved by an appstore. It’s a tactic that permits the Quartz team complete control over their platform and means the magazine is in a position to have greater reach than would be the case were it to be designed specifically for one device (take note, The Daily).
Questions of reach and control have previously attracted other news organisations to abandon the Apple App Store in favour of HTML5 web-based apps. Following a dispute with Apple over changes the tech company made to its subscription rules, The Financial Times became one of the first major news titles to connect with iPad and Android readers through the web without a native app.
Rob Grimshaw, Managing Director of FT.com insisted that the switch could not only be attributed to a falling out with Apple. As much as the move was sparked by the publication’s reluctance to pay 30 per cent of all its subscription revenues to Apple, ultimately it was an "attempt to ensure the FT could scale quickly across different devices and platforms." In the space of just 10 months, the FT’s web app attracted 2 million users.
At its launch on Monday, Quartz was affected by some technical glitches, and the site itself is far from perfect. Navigation is sometimes confusing (even something as fundamental as returning to the homepage causes a problem or two) but as Delaney writes in his welcome note to readers, this is Quartz 1.0. The site’s progress over the coming months will be subjected to as much scrutiny as its launch, as other news outlets weigh up the pros and cons of the innovations trialled both by Quartz and USAToday. With publishers being encouraged to question their relationships with technology companies who have little interest in the content transmitted by their devices, others could soon be keen to follow Quartz’s lead.