The Financial Times (FT) has launched its iPad and iPhone compatible Web app for the Indian market, and is providing access to all stories on the home page for free to its Indian readers.

The iPad version of FT’s app first went live in May last year and was free to use until the end of July. It was reported in February this year that it was soon to exceed half a million downloads. However, the company decided to change strategies after Apple started charging 30% as commission for publishers offering subscription content on the App Store.

The FT released a Web app in June 2011 that circumvents Apple’s subscription policy, while allowing offline access to all of its content to its readers, just like a native app. It reported 30% year-on-year growth earlier this month.

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When Indian users visit FT’s website, it puts up an alert prompting them to visit the publication’s new Web app. Once the app is loaded, users can add it as an icon on one of their Home pages. When the app is launched using that icon, it does away with the browser chrome and loads offline. Furthermore, if the user allows it the 50MB cache allocation it requests, it can save articles and images for offline reading.

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All of these traits make it hard to distinguish it from a native iOS app. We found it to be very well laid out and liked the social network integration it has, allowing you to share stores with your friends on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter. Although there are some breaks in the user experience—like the lack of the standard rubber-banding effect when you reach the scrolling limit on a page and a less smooth interaction overall—we found it easy to forget that we were using a Web app.

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The FT is not the only newspaper that has decided to target iOS-toting readers in India; Indian newspaper The Indian Express got into the iOS game this week as well, with the launch of its free iPad app on the App Store. The app is tiny in size and populates itself with content from the Internet once it is launched. After initial loading, the app remembers the content across relaunches and can be used offline.

It is divided into sections like Latest News, Business, India, World, Entertainment, etc., and has a decent article layout. However, it only supports the portrait orientation, has the same issue with scrolling as the FT app, lacks any font resizing options in the article view and does not offer to send you push notifications for breaking news, as you would expect from a native newspaper app.

The app has launched in India with a $49.40 subscription offer for readers in India who purchase their subscription through directly through the app.

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The only feature it adds to the mix is the ability to save stories that you liked, so that you can easily get to them later. Despite the shortcomings of the app, The Indian Express readers will appreciate being able to read their favourite newspaper from the comfort of a native app on their Home screen.

The launch of these apps for the Indian market is an encouraging sign, both for the adoption of tablets, and the iPad in particular, as a reading platform in India and the willingness of the Indian audience to shift from print to digital reading. It’ll be interesting to watch the competition heat up in this space as more Indian and international publications optimise their content for digital consumption in the future.

Financial Times and The Indian Express