The horrible state of mobile publishing

Adobe InDesign, QuarkXPress, Microsoft Word, and Apple Pages are severely flawed, complicating the distribution of content to mobile readers

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For periodical content, QuarkXPress 9.1 released in early September was meant to usher in the age of iPad content distribution. It promised to let you create a container app for your content that readers could then use to get your latest issue, book, white paper, journal, or whatever for free, for a subscription fee, or for a per-issue cost as you determined. It was supposed to use the "liquid layout" approach for its content, so readers could increase the text size and have the layout reflow automatically -- as the Economist, New York Times, and San Francisco Chronicle mobile apps all do. Contrast that with most publications, which create a fixed presentation very much in the style of a PDF that either cannot be resized or that when resized requires horizontal scrolling to read the text in the enlarged view. That isn't the way mobile's heterogeneity of screen sizes and user adaptability are supposed to work.

What Quark actually shipped didn't include that long-promised reflow capability, so all you get are glorified PDFs in a container managed through the App Store -- and maybe not even that. I tried for a good week to create an app container using Quark's app, its website, and the iOS developers website; all three are involved in the complex process. Even with Quark's human assistance, I never managed to create an app. The instructions changed each time, and ultimately they stopped trying to help. I strongly suspect it's a work in progress. What does work is its preview app, so I could verify that the ultimate result is a glorified PDF viewer.

QuarkXPress is the only mainstream tool available to consider -- Adobe is missing in action on the mobile content front outside of mobile-optimized HTML in its CMS offering.

When you consider's magazine capability in the forthcoming Kindle Fire tablet and Apple's Newsstand app in iOS 5, it appears as if only major publishers with gobs to spend on specialty publishing systems can participate in the mobile magazine business.

I know from my Web experience that tools are slow to catch up with the technologies they serve, at least when it comes to creating content. Even today, a good decade after the rise of the Web, most content producers moan about their content management systems -- none has the sophistication or user orientation of a desktop publishing tool. Maybe I'm naive to think mobile content creation tools should actually work -- and work well -- before 2020.

Technology is moving faster than ever, and the highly manual, error-prone creation processes for mobile content today aren't scalable or sustainable. Adobe, Apple, and Quark don't seem to get it, and Microsoft doesn't seem to care. It might be time for something disruptive -- like the first version of QuarkXPress, the early versions of Word for Windows, or the original Mac's inherent font-savviness were in their time. I've seen a bunch of startups talk about addressing this need, but I haven't seen anything substantive (most are appified HTML viewers, and there are a few services like Zinio that take the unsatisfying glorified-PDF approach) -- I hope that changes soon.

This article, "The horrible state of mobile publishing," was originally published at Read more of Galen Gruman's Mobile Edge blog and follow the latest developments in mobile technology at Follow Galen's mobile musings on Twitter at MobileGalen. For the latest business technology news, follow on Twitter.

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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