This is the first in a new series about frequently requested AO3 features. We get lots of feedback about things people would like to see on the site, which we take into account when developing. Sometimes people ask for stuff we already have (but which might be a bit hard to find), and sometimes we're already planning to add the feature, but can't say exactly when. Other times our answer has to be 'no', or at least 'not right now'. Since there are a few things that come up more frequently than others, we thought we'd do a few posts on the most common requests.
Random Letter #1: Have you considered making an app?
One question we get asked a LOT is whether we'll ever have a mobile app for the Archive. (Since the beginning of the year, AO3 Support has received roughly 40 requests for a mobile app, in addition to the numerous posts on Tumblr and Twitter to the same effect.) The AO3 design and coding team knows that this is a super popular idea, and they have lots of ideas about what an app could look like.
However, there is sadly no magic "App This!" button hidden somewhere in the dark recesses of our servers (we looked!), and building an app from scratch takes time and resources. Websites with official apps typically have a dedicated team of developers doing nothing but taking care of the apps (plural, because iPhones/iPads and Android devices are based on completely separate frameworks) while other people focus on the website itself. The AO3 is entirely built and maintained by volunteers, and right now we simply don't have enough developers to do this.
A few people have volunteered to step in and build apps for us, which is cool! However, in order for anyone to build an app that actually lets you log into your account and make use of most features, the AO3 would need a public API first. An API, grossly simplified, provides a set of hooks in an application (which in our case is the Archive), so other websites or apps can interact with its data. Without an API, even the most beautiful app you could build wouldn't be able to access the Archive database in any useful way.
We do plan to release a public API, but again, this will take time and resources to build. Because the AO3 is still in beta and changing a lot (you'll see on our Roadmap that we need to make some major revisions to important bits of the code), it's not really worth spending the time to build an API right now. We first want to be sure it's not going to have to change radically in the near future.
Right now, our main priority is keeping the main site running smoothly, and working on our long list of bugs and feature requests yet to be implemented. The Archive website should already be functional in most mobile browsers, and we make sure it looks good on Android and Apple devices at least.
As a sidenote, even once we have an app, you probably won't be able to carry an offline copy of the Archive with you: our database currently holds 50 GB of data, which would be tricky to get onto a phone. Of course, a dedicated AO3 app would make it easier to mark stuff for later, pick up where you left off, or download and sort works without the need for another app.
Until we can make this happen, there's lots of ebook readers for your phone that let you view .epub or .mobi files while you're offline, and all files come with Archive links so you can leave kudos or comments once you're online again. For more information, please check out our Downloads FAQ!