Blast from the past, disguised as news: The Financial Times is going to have an app in Apple’s App Store.
Wait! Don’t go! I’m going to (try to) make this more interesting.
The reason the FT’s move qualifies as news is because the FT left the App Store back in 2011 in a dispute over Apple’s subscription rules. At the time, that was a big deal. Now it’s back and you’re stifling a yawn.
It’s not that apps aren’t useful and important for media companies — if you have a committed audience, some of them may want to view your stuff on your app. And if they do, that’s great, since you can reach them directly on your own app. People are still launching new apps today, in 2017.
It’s just that, not very long ago, media companies’ apps seemed central to their future. Now they’re just a thing: Important to get right, but not an existential issue.
There are few reasons for that, and if you’re reading this here, chances are very good that you know them. Still, since you’re here:
Back in 2009*, 2010, 2011, media companies spent a lot of time thinking about the way their stuff would be consumed on an iPad, in part because Steve Jobs encouraged them to think about that.
It seemed obvious, at the time, that the iPad would be the transformative device you used to really read things and watch things — your device of preference. The phone was something you used on the the go, when you couldn’t use an iPad.
Of course, that’s not true. Almost everyone does everything, all the time, on their phones.
Apple still sells lots of iPads — and it just reported the first uptick in iPad sales in years — but it’s not the dominant consumption device.
Which means many media companies — and publishers in particular — spent lots of precious time, money and effort working on a format that never got substantial traction.
Related: Turns out that when people are on their phones, they might go looking for a specific media app, like Netflix or Pandora. But in most cases, they don’t. And they definitely don’t go to specialized media aggregator apps: RIP Circa, Zite, Paper and Propeller. (And I know you beg to differ, Flipboard.)
But they do go to Facebook.
Hard to remember, but back in early 2010, when Jobs rolled out the iPad, Facebook wasn’t one of the two dominant distribution and monetization engines for media. It was just a social network. A big one! With 400 million users. But nothing like the two billion user giant it is today. The one that functions, for many people, like a media/news app.
Again, in retrospect, it seems obvious that a social network that had grown from zero to 400 million people in a few years would become one of the dominant networks for everything. But it didn’t back then.
So when media companies did think about the future of their business, they spent a lot of time thinking about Google (they still do) and a lot of time thinking about Apple — in part because they had seen what Apple had done to digital music business (it controlled it), and acted accordingly.
They didn’t ignore Facebook, mind you. Ad Facebook made plenty of missteps as well, dragging publishers down with it when it stumbled: Find someone who worked at the Washington Post’s “social reader” project, circa 2011, and ask them about that. But they certainly weren’t consumed with it like they were with Apple. Bet they wish they had those years back to do it over again.
* In 2009, the iPad didn’t even exist. But publishers knew it was coming, and obsessed over it. Some even created demos that showed how their stuff would look on the non-existent device.
This article originally appeared on Recode.net.