Adobe viewer first step to digital content platform

Adobe's new magazine viewer shows the company's willingness to move past Flash

Adobe Systems' newly released magazine digital viewer for iPad is the first component of an Adobe digital publishing platform that should help content producers more easily port their printed content onto various portable electronic devices, said Dave Burkett, vice president of Creative Solutions at Adobe.

"There's a ton of interest by publishers to reinvent themselves around the digital experience," Burkett said, referring not only to the iPad, but to all the competing tablets that will be released in its wake. "This is the first foray in announcing what we've been up to."

Beyond magazines, Adobe plans to develop viewers for other traditional print formats, including newspapers, catalogs and brochures. Each viewer will be tweaked to the specific output format. The magazine viewer will focus on design and layout, while other formats, such as a viewer for newspapers, will focus on the ability to update content on the fly.

"Over time, many of these technologies will merge together and have similarities. Today, they are fairly unique based on the content and the devices that are out there," Burkett said.

And contrary to its usual focus on big but relatively infrequent releases to its product line, Adobe plans to release these tools as soon as they are finished, Burkett said. "We're doing a lot of incremental development so as to make sure we get the solution in the hands of the customer as soon as possible."

Eventually, many of these design tools will be folded into the Creative Suite's InDesign print design application itself.

Not all of these technologies will be based on Flash, which Apple CEO Steve Jobs berated as a waning technology earlier this week at The Wall Street Journal's D8 conference.

At least for the iPad, the magazine viewer is built with the Objective C programming language, as per Apple's specifications. "It is fully compliant with all of Apple's software development kit requirements," Burkett said. Burkett did not say if the viewer could replicate all of Flash's capabilities.

The good news is that magazine designers do not have to know any Objective C.

"Most of these magazine publishers do not have rich IT [departments] that could go out and build an Objective C viewer or custom application for each of these different devices," Burkett said. Instead, Adobe plans to cast all the controls in the InDesign look and feel.

Adobe's idea is to allow magazine art departments to augment their magazine layouts with interactive elements, such as the ability to rotate images 360 degrees, zoom in and out, as well as to watch movies and slideshows. The resulting digital versions of these magazines can then be packaged into XML-based ".issue" files, which in turn can be read on the Adobe viewer.

When other devices enter the marketplace, Adobe will support those as well, preferably through Flash if the devices support Flash, Burkett said. As a result, magazine designers should be able to design the digital magazine once, and then render different versions for each type of platform, depending on if they support Flash or not, as well as other factors such as screen size and pixel density.

Unlike other Adobe products, such as PDF or Flash, a single magazine viewer is not directly available to consumers. Rather, publications would package their magazines in the viewer, which they then can make available to potential users. Over time, Adobe will also add the capability for a single viewer to be used for an entire subscription.

"The publisher retains the relationship with the customer," Burkett said, alluding to the concern that publishers have voiced over Apple's control of the customer interaction with the iPad.

Magazine publisher Condé Nast has already used the magazine viewer for its June digital issue of Wired magazine. One of the criticisms of the issue was the huge file size, which could be unwieldy for mobile users to download. Burkett said that approach was due to the choices that the Wired design team made, and is not indicative of the full range of the viewer's capabilities.

"The Wired team took some choices that were perfectly valid for Wired, but may not be relevant for other publications," Burkett said. Notably, every image and video in the digital issue was included with the download, which contributed to the heft of the final file. Burkett noted that the viewer also has the ability to include links to content that can sit on a server, the use of which could cut the download size of an issue.

Magazines such as Wired, however, may not wish to link to outside content, and instead package all the content in a single file for complete viewing offline. "For weekly publications, the newsworthiness of the content is a bit more timely. A monthly publication might [prefer] the notion of packaging a complete experience," he said.

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