What the iPad means to Publishing

Much has been written about big book and magazine publishers flocking to the iPad, but what about the little guys? When we talk about publishing on the iPad, we can mean one of three things: delivering print content as documents, either as PDFs or something like a Word or Powerpoint file, delivering content to the iPad via the web, or delivering content via full-fledged iPad apps.

The iPad and Print Content
Like the iPhone, the iPad can read Word documents, PDFs, text files, Excel, and Powerpoint files. The iPad can also read documents created in the iWorks counter-parts to Microsoft Office: Pages, Keynote, & Numbers. The most common way to get these files on and off your device is via e-mail, but you can also use Apple services like iWorks.com and MobileMe, or web services like Google Docs. Beginning with the iPad, you can also use iTunes 9.1 to transfer files to and from your computer. Right now the process is somewhat cumbersome, as Apple does not give you free reign to the file system. For example, the iPad disk does not show up in the Finder like a USB drive, allowing you to copy files on and off at will.

Many have tabbed the iPad as a content consumption device, but with the native iWorks apps, the iPad can also be used as content creation device as well, although it is limited. The iPad does not support the addition of fonts, so you’re stuck with 44 that are included. The iPad also doesn’t support any kind of printing, which means you’ll have to save your Pages, Keynote, or Numbers document as a PDF, e-mail it to a Mac or PC, and then print it – a real pain.

While I don’t see system-wide font support in the near future, I think printing will be solved soon. Apple could work with printer manufacturers to create iPad apps for printing. For example, an “HP Print” app could, in theory, allow the iPad to print to any HP printers on the current wi-fi network or via bluetooth pairing. Apple could create a printing app themselves with many of the standard printer drivers included. With this week’s announcement of a 4.0 update to the underlying iPhone operating system, Apple could add OS-level printing support to shared printers on Mac and PCs, or some other solution.

Websites customized for the iPad
Most printed content is already re-purposed into a website. The iPad has a browser and can view normal websites, though it lacks Flash. Websites can be bookmarked to the home screen, where they grab the site’s favicon and resemble a normal app. Web apps can be created by making a site that behaves like an iPad app, but is written in HTML, CSS, and Javascript. Your website can sense the iPad version of Safari, and switch to the iPad version of your site. John Gruber explains an Apple project called PastryKit here, that helps with this process.

Content delivered as an iPad app
This has been the most talked about publishing consequence of the iPad. Creating an iPad app amounts to repurposing your printed content or website into a self-contained program that can be downloaded to the iPad, exactly like an iPhone app. Your app can be completely free; it can be free but charge for “issues or episodes;” or you can create a separate app for each issue or episode. With an iPad app, you can make full use of the iPad hardware and user interface. Like CD-ROMs of the past, you must create a unique interface, but you can also take advantage of the fact that this is a mobile platform. If your content is a food guide, it could sort nearby reviews to the top based on the user’s current location. If your content is a text book, it can include 3D models that spin as the iPad is tilted. This is truly an opportunity to have fun with how your readers will interface with your content.

Creating a full-fledged iPad app, however, requires skills you probably do not already have in-house. You’ll need a Mac for development and a programmer with knowledge of the iPhone software development kit and the Objective-C programming language. You can get started here, or hire one of the many software developers already helping companies convert their content into iPhone and iPad apps.

The iPad will be a boon to communication and create new opportunities in publishing, but what it means to your pre-existing content is up to you.

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