With every passing day, there is more innovation in digital publishing and it is mind-blowing. And increasingly, the innovations are being shared as open source projects. I first read about the Baker EBook Framework from the Mashable story published last week and it was another one of those jaw-dropping moments. I made plans to try it out and report on my findings.
HTML5 Publishing Workflow
Background: I’ve been involved in a proprietary digital publishing project that is using a similar architecture. When we were planning the architecture, we felt sure we were following the right path. The iPad magazine-style apps were either bloated slideshows with clever/weird navigation or they were were full-blown native apps and not really books or magazines. Or they were just EPUB books.
We chose to build a publishing model that resembles the EPUB model in terms of content organization of HTML5-rendered content, but more like magazine-like. Magazines are full-bleed color experiences with rich layouts and images. It is such an obvious model (at first anyway), that I am not so surprised that others are following the same path.
The Baker Framework follows this model. If you can build the page as HTML5 and make it look beautiful in a Webkit browser (Safari/Chrome), you should be able to deploy it with perfect fidelity in an iPad app and other platforms that have a WebKit engine. That includes Android and Adobe AIR apps.
The 5-Minute Test Drive
On the bakerframework.com website, the home page shows you the 3 easy steps to publishing your content in an iPad app. I skipped to step 3, since it seems like the others are not necessary if you already have your HTML content. I should mention that the Baker Framework is an XCode project which means you need a recent generation Mac that can run the iPhone SDK in XCode.
Note: content development is the hard part. Good original content doesn’t just appear. It gets created through much effort and review. Keep that in mind.
Since things have been terribly busy lately, I only had a few minutes to try out Baker. This is partly because of the nonstop activity and innovation in digital publishing. I downloaded the framework, looked at the instructions for about 30 seconds and started to add my own HTML5 files and assets. I clicked on Build and Run in XCode.
OMG. It freaking works. It’s a little strange to see a free, open-source solution that replicates the functionality of our internal and proprietary iPad publishing platform. The page fidelity is … uncanny. And yet…
The Reality of WebView Rendering
The WebView renderer, in generic terms, is the component in iOS or Android that can load html from a file or URL and display it. Web browsers have a built-in delay that users expect when a page is requested. The page-load psychology for web browsers is fairly tolerant of this reality.
However, the iPad/tablet computing generation is pretty used to the idea of immediate gratification. And rendering HTML on a mobile or tablet device does not feel immediate. As you swipe with your fingers to flip between pages, you experience a delay before the page content is displayed. I think it’s about 1.2 seconds even on the iPhone Simulator. I saw similar results for our custom app, but probably faster. Regardless, that’s not good enough for the impatient, attention-deficit world we live in.
Conclusion (for now)
Baker Framework is very cool. Although, it’s still early-stage. It may make it easy for you to get your HTML pages into an iPad app, but that’s not quite enough yet. In an upcoming article, we will discuss the hardcore realities of the HTML5-based content approach for publishing to iPad and similar device/platforms.