Apple's release of iWork 9.04 this week has a significant capability that could help transform document distribution: You can now export EPUB files from the productivity suite's Pages word processor. (The folks at Macworld explain how that works, if you're interested.) EPUB is the standard format for e-books used by a range of devices, including of course Apple's iPhone, iPod Touch, and iPad.
Why is that special? Because it's now even easier to forgo traditional publishing and make your documents accessible via the increasingly popular iPad and other e-book-capable mobile devices. Adobe's PDFs used to serve that electronic distribution role, and they still can (Apple's iBooks app also lets you view PDF files). But EPUB could easily displace PDF because it is not a single vendor's standard.
Apple's been targeting Adobe for some time; for example, it's made Adobe Acrobat unnecessary for most Mac users through the inclusion of basic PDF commenting and markup capabilities in Mac OS X Snow Leopard's built-in Preview app. And of course, Apple won't let Flash or AIR anywhere near the iOS.
But there's more to EPUB support than loosening the document control of Adobe (whose InDesign CS5 software can also export EPUB files, by the way). It's about making mobile devices the nexus for accessing and engaging with information, and PCs the less frequently used devices for the creation of that information, as part of migrating users from PCs to mobile devices, where Apple happens to reign today.
iWork is a Mac-only suite, so at first blush you might think I'm overstating the significance of this new capability. But the Mac's role in creating content for use by others is huge -- practically every publisher depends on it -- and it sets the pace for how content and its distribution evolve.
It'll be interesting to see if Microsoft adds a similar EPUB-export capability to Word; if so, EPUB will certainly become the lingua franca of e-readers and mobile devices. In fact, it may become the lingua franca -- just not as fast -- even if Microsoft doesn't adopt it, given that Apple calls the shots on both creative and mobile trends.
One thing's for sure: E-documents are going to get a lot more common.
This article, "Mobile-friendly documents just got a lot easier," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Read more of Gruman et al.'s Mobile Edge blog and follow the latest developments in mobile technology at InfoWorld.com.