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Last week we hosted a tech talk at the Publishers Association (PPA) in London on the subject of “HTML apps, the way forward”. I originally had a question mark in the title, but was told by the other participants Michael Kowalski, Founder of Contentment, the developer behind the Padify platform and Clare Evans, a Front End Developer at Kaldor who produce the PugPig platform to take it out. There is no question that HTML apps ARE the way forward, it seems.

We three companies got together because HTML apps for publications are what we all build. Its a philosophy that we all agree on and, with some real differences in production processes, it’s a common goal that we all arrive at.

Let me summarise the argument for you as briefly as possible. Publications can appear in apps as squeezed down PDF pages. It’s a price that can automatically roll off the print production platform. But look at what is happening to mobile growth in these slides:

FACT – half your readers will be on a smartphone

FACT – reading PDFs on a phone is futile

The other way print people try to get stuff on a tablet is by outputting it from InDesign using tools like Woodwing, Adobe DPS, App Studio, Mag+ and all the other print plug-ins. I have never used them, but when I look at the apps they produce they have a tendency to:

– have large file sizes i.e. 370Mb per issue

– be predominantly iOS when more than half the world’s audience is on Android

– take liberties like telling me which way to hold my iPad (usually landscape)

From a workflow point of view they very often require the whole issue to be laid out twice, once for print and once for app.

So, what’s so great about HTML?!

1. You only need to get your content into HTML once. If you have a website its going to go into HTML to get on there. You probably have a digital-first workflow anyway. If not, we can extract it from the PDF, or you can generate it from your layout system.

2. Once we have the HTML its like molten words – it flows into any device and can be re-sized to be readable on matter how small the screen.

3. Then we just add two magic ingredients – CSS and templates. The first lets us style the HTML so that its pretty. The second determines how it displays on the screen. Mobile-responsive templates can be very clever things that automatically drop and re-size pictures depending on the size of screen available.

4. It should all be super-light. I download our app publications on the train going to meetings in seconds over a normal phone network.

5. HTML stories can be published and updated at any time – they are not tied to a print cycle. The concept of ‘continuous publishing’ ie drip-feeding stories is taking hold among some publishers to keep readers engaged.

Clare focussed her talk on showing how HTML apps could be better designed than the print publication and felt that certain design factors, such as typography, were important in bringing the brand experience to the mobile user. We agree and think that anyone who believes print is best should take the digital design challenge: Can we make it better in digital?

Sorry, done it again. Drop the question-mark. We can make it look better in digital. Try it!

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