Native tablet apps.

Reporting apps are primarily attractive because they combine the advantages of printed reports with the merits of digital formats.

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Reporting apps are primarily attractive because they combine the advantages of printed reports with the merits of digital formats: they can be used offline, conveyed easily, and, at the same time,  ideally make use of the entire range of hypertextual, interactive and multimedia features. As a result, they help shape the image of a company even more than optimised web reports.

Apps are strong drivers of mobile use. According to an Apple press release published in March 2012, the number of apps downloaded from the App Store increased to 25 billion downloads worldwide. The corporate world has taken notice: more and more companies have recently begun to offer tablet versions of their Annual Reports; almost exclusively for Apple iPads. According to a survey carried out by nexxar, 12 percent of the 150 largest listed companies in German-speaking countries published an app of their last corporate report in 2012.

Use case: Report App

Once installed, an app can be used offline. Using tablets, corporate reports are on hand anywhere, any time; no matter whether on an airplane, in a hotel room or at a train station. Apps help companies to reach new stakeholder groups with strong media-affinity who do not only expect information, but also interactivity and multimedia contents on their tablets. By offering apps on App Stores, companies can tap into an additional distribution channel for their reports. Once downloaded, the usage of the app is more frequent and intense. In addition, most users download updates of new reports. Users’ loyalty is significantly stronger than towards optimised web reports, which is precisely what we consider to be the great opportunity in an attention-driven information environment. A good reporting app adds value through interactivity and thrills users with an intuitive navigation concept, helping shape the image of a company.

PDF vs. HTML

Generally, there are two types of reporting apps: PDF- and HTML-based applications. In the first case, the app is usually a one-to-one copy of the PDF version of the printed report that can be read through page by page on an iPad, whereas the latter is based on an online report created in HTML. PDF-based apps dominate at present: only a fraction of all reporting apps is currently based on HTML, even though HTML-based apps offer clear advantages over PDF alternatives. Hypertextuality, interactivity and non-linearity are givens in HTML, whereas these qualities must be added later in PDF documents. PDF-based apps often require a higher storage capacity and lack adequate zoom functions for texts and images. Moreover, links, videos and JavaScript animations are usually not embedded when this type of app is developed since this would require significantly more effort and cost.

Great potential often untapped

The difficulty handling PDF-based apps is a reason why the potential of such formats is often not fully exploited: dynamic charts, video elements and JavaScript animations remain the exception rather than the rule. Moreover, PDF-based apps for “touch-driven” tablet screens entail significant compromises in terms of usability (see above).

The ability to display multimedia content on tablets is precisely what offers a decisive advantage over web versions optimised for mobile devices: compared to smartphones, tablets display report image data on relatively large screens. Once downloaded, integrated animations, images or video elements no longer require additional loading times. This makes reporting apps particularly suitable for shaping the corporate image or when reaching out to stakeholder groups with strong media-affinity.

Example: Legal & General – Annual Report for iPad

Legal & General - Annual report app

Legal & General: HTML-based App for iPad (iTunes)

Example: Legal & General – Annual Report for iPad

AkzoNobel - Annual Report for iPad

AkzoNobel: HTML-based App for iPad (iTunes)

Use is (still) low

According to a Gartner survey published in April 2012, worldwide tablet sales increased by 98% between 2011 and 2012, and are forecast to total approximately 119 million units by the end of 2012.Tablets are therefore expected to gain in importance in the investor relations field in the years to come, providing an argument in favour of reporting apps.

However, companies must consider that reporting apps are currently only attractive to a small group of stakeholders, most likely with a strong affinity for technology. According to industry estimates, download numbers of well-promoted reporting apps reach the four-figure mark after one year.

Challenge: alternatives to the iPad

Developers face another challenge in connection with future reporting apps: so far most apps are developed for Apple iPads; native apps for tablets running other operating systems are rarely available. Web apps may provide one possible solution to this problem: this type of app uses the device browser to load the contents of the report, and is thus platform-independent. Ideally, web apps do not mirror the design of a website, but show instead the typical characteristics of an app. They can even be used without an Internet connection: web apps can be programmed in a way that allows for contents to be downloaded and stored after installation for offline use.

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