News Corp’s Project Alesia Team Releasing An iPad Product After All

Some of the thinking behind News Corp.’s attempt at aggregating its rivals’ news publications on tablets devices will live on despite being partially aborted by the publisher.

The development team which had led its Project Alesia in London has formed their own company which is offering its own suite for building iPad magazines and newspapers.

Kaldor Group was formed in February by News Corp.’s former Project Alesia product and technology lead Jonny Kaldor, who was previously News International’s chief technology officer, along with the project’s lead architect Jon Marks and two other Alesia developers.

Their new product, which will be announced Tuesday, is PugPig, a developer framework for building iOS publications out of HTML5.

Project Alesia was News Corp.’s secretive attempt at creating an aggregated pay-for tablet news service comprising its own and rivals’ content. In the UK, where some 80 contractors worked on the project and built a project to near-completion, it was wound down last winter when peers declined the invitation, though paidContent understands News Corp (NSDQ: NWS) is still trying to do U.S. partnerships.

With PugPig, Kaldor is not redeploying Alesia code, nor is the idea remotely to aggregate publishers’ content in the same way, Marks says – but founders’ learnings from their News Corp development experience carry over. In fact, Kaldor is aiming some features at some of the medium-to-arge publishers the team liaised with whilst at News Corp.

“We learned a huge amount,” Marks told paidContent. “(Whilst at News Corp., we got to speak to most of the big publishers about publishing for multiple devices; in particular, the iPad.”

Everyone agrees that HTML based publishing is the future. Most people think it isn’t ready yet – HTML based apps still flicker and flash and just don’t have that native feel. Which is why we’ve built a hybrid framework that, we think, proves that it can be done.”

The idea of HTML-based publications has gained prominence lately, as the clock ticks to the final June 30 revision of Apple’s terms concerning in-app subscriptions…

  • A pair of Berlin developers recently touted its own platform using a prototype magazine named Aside.
  • Brightcove recently announced a new write-once suite for the production of both native and web apps for multiple platforms.
  • The Financial Times, which opposes Apple’s terms, is urging all its subscribers to switch from its iOS app to a new web app, which mimics its native equivalent impressively and sets a new benchmark for what is possible in HTML.

But PugPig does not embrace the web entirely; it is more about symbiosis. As though cross-breeding the “pug” of iOS with the “pig” of HTML (or is it the other way around?), it executes what Marks calls “clever things” to render HTML5 pages inside native iOS apps, albeit more smoothly than usual. That means PugPig apps likely aren’t a way to bypass Apple’s 30 percent subscription commission in the same way the FT aims to, for example.

“We’ve been waiting until after the iOS 5 announcements just to make sure Apple (NSDQ: AAPL) didn’t do anything which stepped on our toes,” Marks told paidContent. “Fortunately, they didn’t. In fact, Newsstand is perfect for us and we’ve already tested the integration.

“In principle, I think pure web apps are the future and I love and thank FT for what they are doing,” Marks said. “However, you can’t get quite the same level of smoothness with a pure web app. You only get 50Mb offline storage and horrible memory restrictions with a pure web app. The FT have done an awesome job, and yet it doesn’t feel quite as good.”

Kaldor is giving PugPig away for free in order to have users help it improve the product, but will ultimately charge for support and an enterprise version.