Pulse leaps from app to Web, at last

Mobile app darling Pulse makes its move to the browser with an HTML5-powered site that looks great in in Firefox, Chrome, and IE 10, of all places.

iPhone? Check. Android? Check. For most mobile apps, that's enough. Popular news reader Pulse, however, has decided that its next frontier is something you may have heard of before called the World Wide Web.

Pulse's Web app at Pulse.me is built entirely from HTML5, CSS3, and JavaScript, and indicates that the future-Web technologies are rapidly approaching a state where they can easily re-create native app experiences in the browser. The site is accessible from most major browsers on traditional PCs and mobile devices. With the touch-focused Windows 8 and its associated touch screen hardware coming at the end of October, the site has been specifically designed to be touch-friendly.

CEO Akshay Kothari said in a conversation with CNET from Pulse's new San Francisco office that the most commonly-requested feature for Pulse was to be able to use it on a traditional computer. "The computer is far more complex," he said. "The Web is a tough problem for developers because there are more variables," such as multiple screen sizes and different browser engines.

Pulse comes to the Web
The Pulse native apps can sync to the Web app, once you've set up a Pulse account. It will pull in your subscriptions and Pulse's content partners from the mobile apps, and stories you've starred to read later will sync as well. The site has been designed to fill to the edge of the browser window, much like a mobile app uses the entirety of the screen. Resizing the browser changes the layout of the app, so that it always uses every pixel available, said Kothari.

"I think you'd be hard to find anybody who'd say that browsing the web on a tablet is as smooth as an app," Ryan Gavin, Microsoft's general manager for Internet Explorer, said during a phone interview. Gavin and his team worked with Kothari and Pulse, and Pixel Lab (of Cut the Rope fame,) to build Pulse's site.

The home screen for the new Pulse Web app that's also a Web site.

(Credit: Pulse)

Gavin explained that the Pulse team was skeptical at first, but was finally convinced that they could replicate the Pulse mobile app on the Web in large part because of the speed and fluidity of the "touch interaction model."

"The depth of touch support is very forward looking, and also where the Web should be going," he said. To that end, Microsoft will be making the code for Tiles.js, the template driven tile-based layout engine that was built for Pulse, open-source on Github.

Getting Pulse to the Web is a big win for Web advocates, in no small part because the app has received a huge amount of attention. It currently has more than 15 million people using it to read more than 250 million stories per month. The number of stories read has more than doubled since December 2011.

In terms of site popularity, those numbers might not put Pulse anywhere near the top of the list, but it's definitely one of the most unique-looking sites around. You can use two-finger swipe to open the left nav, pinch to close a story and return to the overview, or long-press on a story to save it for later -- gestures that ought to feel familiar to people with smartphones and tablets.

Problems with mobile and Web alike
As with any platform, mobile native apps come with their own problems. Kothari noted that despite the better Android experience being on Ice Cream Sandwich and Jelly Bean, the vast majority of people with Android are still using Android 2.3 Gingerbread. "We still have to support that. It's a big loss for us," he said.

iOS was not immune from his critique, either. He complained that apps for Apple still have to go through their review process, "and you still need people to update their apps. The Web is interesting because the day you push code on your web site, everybody gets it."

The Web app allows the story to fill the screen, with quick navigation tools on the left.

(Credit: Pulse)

Gavin was quick to dismiss concerns that Pulse's site would be optimized for Internet Explorer 10. "We're building to standards-based code. We don't want people building to a specific browser," he said. But, he claimed, things such as hardware acceleration look better in IE 10.

"You talk to more and more developers these days, and there's two camps. There's the people who remember the pain of having to have built for IE 6, and those that haven't. Everything now is 'dash-webkit,'" an option that allows code to only run in browsers with the WebKit engine, such as Chrome, Safari, and Dolphin, "but it should just be the Web," he lamented.

"It's a dangerous path," Gavin said, and added that developers don't know what do about it.

While Gavin's concerns were focused on pushing Web standards and advocating his browser while not appearing to be reverting to past Microsoft habits, Kothari focused on the future of his product and said that Pulse's move is a harbinger of things to come. "It's going to be very interesting to see how things develop in the future. You'll see the distinction between Web and app get diluted," he predicted.

Gavin concurred. "You look at the Pulse experience, and what that is. It used to be, 'There's an app for that,' but now there's a site for that."

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