Quartz takes the latest step in Web apps evolution

Atlantic Media’s new business news website, Quartz, launched today. I wrote earlier about the five things journalists should know about this new project.

The first of those five things was Quartz’s tablet-first focus, which we can now see in action.

Although the site is focused on reaching globetrotting business executives on their smartphones and tablets, you won’t find it in your favorite app store.

As Peter Kafka notes in a preview piece today, Quartz is at that leading edge of digital publishing that uses responsive design and Web apps to get the job done from a single website:

Instead of asking readers to download an app to get its stuff on tablets or phones, Quartz will work on the mobile Web browsers those machines already have. And it will publish a single Web site, which will configure itself depending on the kind of device and screen size each reader uses.

There are some clear benefits to this approach.

1. All Quartz content is accessible through any browser, not just on certain devices. That’s good for owners of Android, Windows, or BlackBerry tablets. It’s even good for iPad owners — major news organizations like NPR and Politico find that many iPad users read their websites, even though they have apps available.

2. Each Quartz article can be linked to and shared using a single URL. No “m.quartz.com” redirects and no app redirects. That’s also helpful for mobile users, who discover a lot of content through Facebook or Twitter links and want to be able to open them easily on their devices.

3. Quartz has an independent platform that it controls entirely. Changes can be deployed immediately without app store review. Any eventual subscription options will not be subject to the app store’s 30 percent fee.

Overall, Quartz is launching with quite a nice user interface that achieves the elegant style it was surely aiming to bring to an upper-class audience.

Quartz’s no-ads strategy preserves uniformity and simplicity in its design. (The site will lean on sponsored content and events revenue instead of traditional display ads.)

Your typical business news site is organized into generic categories (E.g., World | US | New York | Business | Tech | Markets, etc.) and thick lists of subcategories. But Quartz uses a single thin, horizontally scrollable navigation bar that lists the site’s current “obsessions” — the phenomena its reporters are tracking closely. Energy shocks, China slowdown, Euro crunch and Low interest rates are some current ones.

There’s room for improvement, though. For my taste, the iPad/desktop version devotes too much space to the header and the sidebar navigation, making the articles feel squeezed.

On an iPad screen in landscape orientation, the article-viewing pane occupies only 60 percent of the screen. The header (15 percent) and left-hand sidebar (25 percent) eat up quite a bit of space. It would be nice to immerse into an article when reading it and collapse some of those other panes.

The smartphone version of the site does this nicely. The main menu is hidden with a button in the header to show it on demand. Most of the screen is saved for the headline list or article.

For more examples of websites-as-tablet apps, see the Boston Globe’s responsive site launched in 2011 and the recent tablet-focused beta redesign of USAToday.com. In the very near future, expect to see The Atlantic Wire and PBS websites relaunch as mobile-optimized Web apps as well.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=749911534 Anonymous

    Note: re Quartz’s putative statement that it has a correspondent in Taiwan. Seems Naomi Rovnick is leaving the island nation of Taiwan soon: Pigeon mails drop this note on my desk today:
    “I have started a new long term freelance arrangement with Quartz …It is a free-to-read title aimed at business people who travel
    constantly and whose information needs transcend the news agenda of a
    national or regional newspaper.
    Quartz aims to help them recognise seismic shifts in the global economy.

    I’ll be contributing to Quartz daily, covering the whole Asia region
    from a business perspective.

    Quartz is paced for around-the-clock reading on mobile, tablet, and
    desktop. Its coverage is will not restricted by newspaper beats, such
    as ‘retailers’ or ‘China’. The average investment banker or leader of
    a multinational business thinks across industries and geographies. He
    or she probably wants to understand trends such as how the current
    slowdown in China might affect the shipping industry.

    Quartz will also cover news about individual companies or countries if
    these are stories the editors feel global business people need to

    For [a short while] I’ll be working from Taiwan.

    Next month, I’m relocating to Indonesia. I’ll cover thematic
    stories from there that involve the entire Asia region.

    But from a Quartz perspective, where I am based isn’t too important.
    Think of it in terms of my being based in a city that’s an hour’s
    flight or less from Bangkok, Singapore and Kuala Lumpoor, observing the global
    supply chain from this vantage point. One can learn quite a bit about
    the [communist] Chinese economy, for example, by visiting Malaysian shipyards or
    speaking with Singapore-based commodities traders.

    I’ll relocating after October 15.”

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=749911534 Anonymous

    Quartz has field reporterts around the world, including in Taipei Ms. Naomi Rovnick who is is the current Quartz correspondent based in Taiwan. She is a former senior business writer for the South China Morning Post and she won a 2011 Society of Publishers in Asia award for excellence in business writing. Many of her Quartz stories get seconded or second-screened at the Atlantic website as well, since Quartz is an Atlantic property. Interesting synergy. For example her piece headlined ”Behind the Foxconn Riot: The Turbulent Future of Chinese Manufacturing” appeared in both places, with this note at Atlantic’s site — ”this post originally appeared at Quartz, an Atlantic partner site.”

  • http://arnereport.net/ Arne Kaufmann

    While you are definitely right, that UX designers have to do that, I fully disagree with the decision they made in this case. Letting readers open their articles in new tabs easily is no downside for them, more positive actually. The only person who loses is the reader, he cannot read the site the way he likes. Something like: I read an article, then there are a few articles I want to read next right there, but I can only open one in the same tab and have to go back to read the others and cannot just open the others quickly in tabs and read them without having to remind me and the searching as soon as I am done reading the current one.

    The way they are doing it now is preventing me from reading many articles of the page, it is not a great user experience to go back and forward to find the articles I want to read, but I have seen minutes ago and would just have opened them up. I mean it does not hurt them allowing it, it hurts them more by not allowing it, if there are more people thinking like me.

  • Anonymous

    Interesting observation, Arne. I think UX designers have to balance controlling the quality of the user experience vs. letting users do anything they want. This might be an example of two different spots on that continuum.

  • Anonymous

    Great example, thanks for sharing.

  • http://arnereport.net/ Arne Kaufmann

    Yes, there is just one big difference between the USA Today design and the Quartz design. Quartz does not let me open articles in new tabs with Cmd + Leftclick, USA Today does and looks better. For many it is not that big of a deal, but it annoys me personally a lot. I am just the kind of person working with a lot of tabs. Also I do not get, why Quartz does not want me to open a new tab with their content if I want to.

  • Anonymous

    WNYC’s On The Media web site has been taking a tablet-fist approach for some time, as well. I don’t think they’ve been promoting it, but it’s fairly obvious. http://goo.gl/MkLnN