Life on mobile never stops changing, and yet another dramatic development has unfolded over the past few months. Google Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP), Facebook Instant Articles, and Apple News have arrived, surrounding publishers on three fronts and positioning themselves for dominance. By now everyone from the New York Times to your local grocer has caught onto the fact that consumers have a burning need for speed—they want it mobile, and they want it now. The question is, what choices will publishers make to help them meet that need?
For many, acceptance has come slowly. “Telling publishers their site is too slow feels like telling a classical cellist that they take too long to start playing after walking on stage,” Robinson Meyer writes. “If the music’s good enough, why care? Will [the audience] remember the brilliant conclusion or the eight seconds of initial silence?” But on the mobile stage, if your brilliant content takes eight seconds to load, your audience will be gone before the first note is played.
Google steps up with AMP technology, “an architectural framework built for speed.” Embracing this open-source solution enables publishers to create “fast, flexible and beautiful” web pages optimized to load instantly on mobile devices. Officially launched last month, Google AMP was announced last October and has since been adopted by nearly 6,000 developers from 33 countries and thousands of mobile sites. Speed matters to the emperor of search engines. It rolled out a new “mobile-friendly” algorithm last year that rewards mobile-optimized pages with higher search rankings. And it expects mobile pages “above the fold” (the first page) to render in less than one second. It seems that Google is all about setting the bar high—then grabbing it and never letting go.
At Facebook, the Instant Articles platform offers its own set of “powerful new creative tools to bring your stories to life,” designed to build “interactive and immersive” content in the Facebook app. Instant Articles, soon to be opened to all, was introduced last year to a select group of news publishers, among them The Washington Post. Julia Beizer, director of mobile products, says the Post has worked hard to optimize their properties for speed, “because we know how much it affects our ability to keep readers from bailing before your content loads. When we started talking to Facebook, we felt like there was clear alignment in what we were trying to do.”
And in the Apple universe, publishers can optimize content for Apple’s mobile devices to deliver “a captivating experience.” Apple News bundles stories into personalized packages based on user-chosen news sources and topics, while the Apple News Format lets publishers customize these packages with their branding. The new bells and whistles are all there, just as with Google and Facebook, but, true to its aesthetic heritage, Apple News values beauty. It provides publishers with a way to (in its words) create “beautifully crafted layouts with custom typography,” bringing “the beautiful editorial layouts and typography of print to the screen,” thus offering mobile readers “stunningly crafted articles that reflect the style of the publications they come from.”
For publishers, these are the three new choices. For mobile consumers, it’s all good. “While we’re figuring all that out, the consumers are winning,” the Washington Post’s Cory Haik says. “They’re getting more performant experiences. It loads quickly, it looks fantastic, but the native piece of it, I think, is the most exciting … design, UX, all of it coming together to create the experiences that are meant for those platforms.” The bells and whistles, the beauty, even the setting of the bar—it’s all happening for those speed-hungry consumers, after all.