"Apps are bullshit" may sound like a weird slogan to raise venture capital with, but that's exactly what Jason Baptiste did (and continues to do) as he builds his startup company, OnSwipe. ("We're making T-shirts," he tells Co.Design.) What he really means is that content apps are b.s.: those dazzling but expensive-to-produce and slow-to-download packages that Conde Nast, Time Inc., and others (okay, yes, us!) are trying so desperately to sell.
To Baptiste, that's a sucker's bet. "People already go to the web to consume content," he says. "That's where you should be providing the applike experience." And that's what OnSwipe does: Any content creator or publisher — say, Co.Design — can simply point their CMS at the service, and poof: an "applike experience" pops out, full of all the swiping, tapping, touchy interactions you could ever want — but instantly accessible from a tablet web browser. Here's how it works:
Any publisher can simply point their CMS at the service, and poof.
According to Baptiste, OnSwipe is backed by some of the same investors as Tumblr, which struck me as no coincidence. What Tumblr did for the backend of content publishing — i.e., make the CMS insanely easy to use — OnSwipe aims to do for the front end, by making that slick, gorgeous tablet experience insanely easy to generate. ("Insanely easy tablet publishing" is the company slogan.) The OnSwipe dashboard even looks Tumblr-like: a set of giant, friendly looking buttons and templates literally lets a publisher "app-ize" their current website in a matter of minutes. "Blogging was still too difficult, so Tumblr made it easy," Baptiste says. "Making your stuff look great on a tablet should be easy, too."A 3-year-old could use this. And that's the point.
OnSwipe began as a WordPress plugin called PadPressed that could "app-ize" blogs, making their interface and interactions feel more tablet-ey. "I got an iPad, and I said, 'Wow, this device is amazing, and I want to make my content look like a native app.' So we decided to make it as a side project," Baptiste recalls. "We thought, 'Wouldn't it be funny if this is what we ended up building a company around?'"
When the company launches later this spring (Baptiste wouldn't confirm an exact date), OnSwipe will offer "thousands" of ready-made and customizable templates for publishers to take advantage of out-of-the-box. And the platform itself will be free. "This isn't about commoditizing app design," he says. "Designers will be able to pick styles and textures to unify a theme, and add in accent colors, logos, and custom fonts." Later, OnSwipe will offer publishers and designers the ability to make their own custom themes from scratch and market them in a directory, much like Tumblr's.
OnSwipe's real business model, says Baptiste, is to monetize app-like design and user experience with a web-style ad network, the same way Google did with its search technology. "The web is primarily monetized by ads, but the point-and-click banners are a disgrace to the business of advertising," he says. "What was the last web campaign you remember as much as 'Got Milk'? This can give print-like creative back to the web advertising model."
OnSwipe will offer "thousands" of templates for publishers.
"Content and ads have a parasitic relationship on the web — we put content and design as the last thing on the totem pole [when building a web experience]," Baptiste continues. "But these devices are very personal; there's so much more you can do simply because of what the device is. It's all about design: Kids used to rip print ads out of magazines and put them on their walls. Nobody does that with banner ads. We finally have an era where web content is enjoyable, and now when ads finally come in [via OnSwipe], maybe those can be enjoyable again too."
It's an ambitious vision. But at the very least, OnSwipe will give me an easy way to make my crappy personal blog look awesome on an iPad. Even if OnSwipe doesn't singlehandedly reinvent the web-content business, that's still a pretty great design problem to solve.