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New York Times Chrome Web app hands-on: jaw-droppingly awesome

NYT Web app
Truth be told, I've never been sold on the whole Web apps paradigm. They're just websites! Very pretty websites, but ultimately... just websites. But it seems I was missing the point: while they're websites to you and I, publishers and developers see them as something else entirely. They see Web apps as beautiful, standardized, cross-platform tools for dissemination of their content and, of course, monetization. It's hard to sell a website, but a Web app on the other hand...

Take a look at the New York Times Web app, which I've just had the immense pleasure of playing around with. Notice how I gave you a Chrome Web Store link, but I could just as easily tell you to visit in Firefox 4 and it still works. Heck, it works in Firefox 3, too.

Don't let the 'oooh, Web app!!' distract you from the real gems, though. The layout is nothing like the website, and that's a good thing. Never has it been easier to switch between categories quickly -- seriously, the Web app blows the website out of the water, as far as content discovery goes. Then, there's the keyboard shortcuts, with the arrow keys allowing you to whisk through pages and stories with incredible ease.

Finally, and perhaps the best example of why Web apps are the wave of the future: visit the Web app's URL on your iPad. The experience is better than the actual iPad app. Even swiping works! (There are some iPad screenshots in the gallery below, too.)

Anyway, the best way to get to grips with the New York Times Web app is to play around with it yourself. If you don't have time, or if you're afraid of missing the good bits, have a look through our hands-on gallery below (again, make sure you view the images 'full size'). My initial impressions are excellent -- but the app is far from perfect. More analysis after the break.

New York Times Web app hands-on walkthrough

For some reason, the font rendering seems a bit off (see image). I don't have any add-ons installed, and as far as I know my Windows 7 install is 'stock', so I'm not sure what's causing it. When a page loads, the font will start off looking normal, then 'flicker' a few times as it smooths. Ultimately, the text just looks blurry (which you can see in the screenshots, if you look closely). Another problem, which I only had in Firefox 4: it only worked once! After that, I got a navigation menu, but nothing on the left side. Curious.

As you will see in one of my screenshots, there are full-screen interstitial ads... but they failed to load (image). I don't have an ad-blocking add-on installed, so I figure this is just a temporary error. The square ads are very nice, though -- and also, interestingly, don't seem to appear on every Custom skin.

The Customize skins, incidentally, are awesome. Never has the beauty of marked-up text and elegant application of CSS been so apparent. It's worth playing with the NYT app just to toy around with the Customize tool.

Tags: apps, chrome, chrome web store, ChromeWebStore, html5, new york times, news, newspaper, NewYorkTimes, nyt, web