Review: QuarkXPress 9.1 with App Studio

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Pros: Puts iPad publishing into the hands of average publishers, with access to dramatic new effects and features.

Cons: Thanks to Apple, submitting an app is a convoluted affair and requires an iOS developer account. There are also two Flash-related bugs that, while they won't apply to every user, will require some people to employ workarounds to fix the bugs' effects.

Rating: 8/10

Quark released QuarkXPress 9.0 in April of this year, with a promise to deliver App Studio, a tool for creating iPad apps, within a few months. (See my review of QuarkXPress 9.0 here.) In late August, Quark shipped QuarkXPress 9.1, a free update that includes a few new features and the promised App Studio. Upgrades from QuarkXPress 8 to 9.1 cost $299.

With App Studio, you can create an iPad app that is basically a digital magazine, newsletter, journal, or book. You can offer your app for free, or the app can include built-in purchasing options for individual issues of a magazine, a subscription to a magazine, a single book, or any number of titles in a collection of books. Apple handles the transactions and gives you 70% of the purchase price. Currently, App Studio is the most affordable solution for getting QuarkXPress publications to the iPad — especially for small- to medium-sized publishers and self-publishers.

Conceptually, App Studio (Figure 1) is pretty easy to grasp:

  1. Start with an existing QuarkXPress layout, or start from scratch.
  2. Using the new App Studio palette, add some multimedia and interactivity to page items.
  3. Optionally, go nuts with the interactivity — the options are deep.
  4. Export the layout in the AVE format.
  5. Open Quark's App Studio Factory and choose an iPad app template. This is a container for the AVE file that functions as the iPad interface for delivering and purchasing content.
  6. Customize the template to reflect your branding.
  7. Link your AVE file and export your shiny new iPad app.

Figure 1. Click the image below to see a larger version.

Of course, the devil is in the details. You'll have to set up an iOS Developer Account with Apple so they know to expect iPad apps from you. You'll also have to submit your finished iPad app to Apple and wait for the company to approve it. (This is usually pretty quick, because the programming in Quark's App Studio Factory templates is mostly pre-approved by Apple.) And for steps 5 through 7, you'll need a Mac — the App Studio Factory and Apple's tools (Xcode and the iOS simulator) run only on Macs.

You'll also need Web server space to store the content of your app — Apple doesn't host that for you. Instead, Apple delivers the app to the customer, then pulls its content from your Web server. You can store your content on a free service such as Dropbox, a paid Web hosting service, or your own Web server.

Once all of that is out of the way, you're ready to start publishing!

Option 1: Convert an Existing QuarkXPress Document As Is
If you don't want to change anything about your existing book or magazine, you can just export it from QuarkXPress and connect it to an iPad template in App Studio Factory. Assuming you've already set up an account with Apple, you're pretty much done with the creation side of things.

And then those devilish details show up. There is a small maze of administrative tasks you'll need to complete to actually publish your book or magazine. You need to tell Apple about your app, so they can give you some identification numbers. You also need to create a free account at the Quark App Studio Publishing Portal, where you use your Apple ID numbers to get some additional identification. Then you drop a combination of those identifiers into the App Studio Factory and export your app.

This convoluted process is inescapable because of Apple's requirements. The good news is that after you've set it up the first time, it's much easier to repeat the process for subsequent titles.

Option 2: Add Interactivity to an Existing QuarkXPress Document
While you can convert existing publications without changing them, the real fun of making iPad apps lies in adding interactivity and multimedia. With the new App Studio palette (Figure 2), you can enrich existing documents by dropping a slideshow, audio file, or video file into a picture box. App Studio walks you through the steps of adding controls for your multimedia and setting appropriate options. You can add multi-state buttons for navigation and even insert HTML code into a picture box. That HTML can come from your desktop or be live on a Web server.

Figure 2.

When you export your converted project (Figures 3 and 4), App Studio adds page-to-page and spread-to-spread navigation features, a menu bar, and zooming capability.

Figure 3.Figure 4.

You can also control rendering options to keep file size down, if necessary (Figure 5).

Figure 5.Option 3: Create an iPad App from Scratch
To make full use of App Studio's features, you'll want to create your iPad app from scratch. If you're familiar with the document structure change that Quark made in QuarkXPress 6, you'll recognize the new App Studio layout space as just another kind of layout space (Figure 6).

Figure 6.

The App Studio layout space can include both Vertical and Horizontal layouts (Figure 7), intelligently linked so that changes you make to one are reflected in the other. This is an incredible time saver when you're designing for both orientations at the same time. (Quark's Shared Content feature also speeds development considerably: You can mirror almost any content or styling across multiple instances on multiple layouts, and if you change any of them, they all change.)

Figure 7. Click the image below to see a larger version.

Once you've generated a horizontal and/or vertical layout space, you can create text, shapes, boxes, lines, and so forth with the usual QuarkXPress tools. Go ahead and apply drop shadows, assign transparency, all that great stuff. Then it starts to get interesting: Because text boxes in an iPad app may contain stories of unlimited length, you have several ways to present them to your reader. One way is to make a scrolling text box. You can even drop markers into the text flow that trigger changes and actions on the surrounding page as the reader scrolls to a marker. It's kind of like a disjointed rollover on a Web page.

To take it a step further, you can insert an entire Layout (one or more entire QuarkXPress pages) inside a scrolling box. With these kinds of options, you risk disappearing down the rabbit hole — in a good way.

Even the Slideshow feature is fun to use. You can simply display a carousel of images, or you can add an animated pan and zoom, and crop the image to a small portion that then expands to fill the page with the entire image. Slideshows can include captions and thumbnail images. In addition to images, existing QuarkXPress pages can be the individual slides, which allows you to design each slide in QuarkXPress.

When you export an App Studio layout you've built from scratch, another automatic navigation feature appears: page stacks (Figure 8). Since your magazine is likely to have multiple sections with multiple pages, App Studio can build a navigation bar at the bottom of each page that shows the pages of a section as either a vertical stack or a horizontal sequence:

Figure 8.iPad App Templates
After you've completed your design work in QuarkXPress, you export your document in the new AVE format. The content of this file will eventually be displayed as content in your iPad app. One key concept here is that each exported AVE file may be displayed as an "issue" in your iPad app. That's how new issues are delivered to your customers without forcing them to download a new version of the iPad app.

Next, you design the appearance of the iPad app that will wrap around your content and choose the capabilities you would like it to have. To do so, choose one of the iPad app templates provided with App Studio Factory and customize its appearance.

There are three template categories:

  • Embedded Issue templates are useful when you want to sell a single publication as a standalone eBook app. With an Embedded Issue template, you can create a standalone app that includes a single embedded issue. Customers who buy this app get the issue automatically and can't buy other issues from within the app.
  • Kiosk templates (Figure 9) are best-suited for magazine titles or other periodicals. Your customers can browse a selection of issues associated with a particular title or collection (or, with some kiosk templates, a particular set of titles or collections). When customers find an issue they want, they can purchase it using Apple's in-app purchase or subscription feature.
  • Bookstore templates are best for book collections. With a Bookstore template, a customer can browse the issues available in one or more collections.

Figure 9. Click the image to see a larger version.

Within those three categories, App Studio Factory includes eight app templates, which you can customize with your own colors and graphics. For a completely custom look to your iPad app, you can create your own template, but that requires serious programming juju. Large organizations may wish to pursue this route, but most people will satisfy themselves with customizing the appearance of the existing templates.

The templates are not free. You may experiment with them all you like, but when it comes time to publish your iPad app, you'll need to pay the piper — actually the Quark store or a Quark authorized reseller.

If you're publishing a magazine, the cost of a template license is $149 for a single embedded issue, $749 for multiple issues of one title, and $1,499 for multiple issues of multiple titles. If you're publishing a book, the cost of a template license is $149 for a single book, and $749 for any number of book titles.

Quark may update the included templates at any time to add support for new versions of the IPad's operating system or to add new features to the template. All updates are included with your license for 12 months after purchase, but you don't have to accept them. (Much like updates to programs on your computer, you don't have to apply an update if you don't need the new features.) Any time after the initial 12 months, you can repurchase the license and have a further 12 months of updates to the template. If you don't have any reason to update your app, you don't need to repurchase the license.

In addition to the template license fee, you must also pay an issue license fee that covers the cost of delivering issues to the app. It's based on how often you plan to release a new "issue" for your iPad app; for example, a new issue of a magazine. These prices range from about $280 to $349 for each issue, depending on how many you buy at once.

The annual $99 iOS developer fee you pay Apple rounds out the costs for publishing your masterpiece to Apple's App store.

Don't Let the Bugs Bite
I ran into a nasty bug in the App Studio window in QuarkXPress. The App Studio functionality uses Flash, which I had disabled on my Mac. Therefore, the App Studio window was empty. When I installed the latest Flash Player from Adobe (version 10.3.183.7 at the time I'm writing this), the window was still empty. After reinstalling QuarkXPress, the problem went away. Your mileage may vary.

There's also a Flash bug that affects 32-bit applications running in Lion, the latest incarnation of the Mac OS. When you type in a form field (as you do when entering text into the App Studio options), each character is repeated twice as you type it. The workaround is to either delete every other character or type your text into a text editor and copy/paste it into the App Studio field. Quark expects the next major version of QuarkXPress (10) to be a 64-bit application. Until then, Quark and the rest of us must wait for Adobe to fix this bug.

A Few More New Features in QuarkXPress 9.1
Besides App Studio and App Studio Factory, version 9.1 has a few other improvements. The new Trim View simulates what a page will look like when trimmed, cropping any items that extend beyond the page boundary.

The "Hide Suppressed" view option hides all items and Layers for which the Suppress Output box is checked, and hides underlines on hyperlinks, hyperlink anchors, index markers, and the text overflow symbol. A new View Sets feature lets you store and recall different combinations of View settings, such as guides, grids, invisible characters, visual indicators, and more. You can now map Style Sheets to Tags when tagging text in a Reflow article. This makes it much easier to prepare existing styled text for ePUB and other eBook formats. Smaller improvements allow panning while a Pen tool is selected, and support for native Photoshop files in Job Jackets rules.

Here's one important (and surprising) thing to remember about QuarkXPress 9.1: QuarkXPress 9.0 cannot open files saved in QuarkXPress 9.1 or later. Instead, you must either encourage your co-workers to upgrade to the free 9.1 or export 9.1 documents to version 8.0 format, which then can open in 9.0. (Although that sounds like more steps, it's actually the same number of steps as if there was a way to export to 9.0.) This is the first time in Quark's history that a "dot" release (9.1) creates documents that can't be opened in the previous "dot" release (9.0).

Buying Advice
For many publishers, QuarkXPress 9.1 and its App Studio open an affordable door to publishing an iPad app. With millions of existing books, magazines, and journals already in the QuarkXPress format, upgrading to version 9.1 and converting them to digital format with App Studio is a smart choice.

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