QuarkXPress 9 review: first look


QuarkXPress 9 review: first look

When Quark announced the launch of the free QuarkXPress 8.5 release, I was seriously unimpressed. Firstly it offered almost no new power, second it implied that the launch of version 9 was some way off, and third it looked like Quark was squandering a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to get back at market leader, InDesign.

Based on a press briefing introducing the new QuarkXPress 9, my main concerns have been answered – at least partly.

With today’s announcement of QuarkXPress 9 coming only a few months after 8.5, it’s clear that Quark is very aware of the need for speed. More importantly this looks to be a feature-packed update and it’s clear that Quark realises exactly what needs to be done.

In particular, while there are plenty of significant new design capabilities – such as conditional styles, improved callout handling, shapemaker and cloner tools and, not before time, a story editor – the real focus of the new release is exactly what it should be: digital publishing to the all-important tablet market.

In many ways events have played into Quark’s hands. Adobe’s digital publishing strategy since it took over Macromedia has been all about delivering rich content through Flash. No-one ever imagined that Steve Jobs would simply refuse to allow such a near-universal standard format onto his devices. It might be shockingly anti-competitive, but it’s happened and it left Adobe completely wrong-footed.

Publishing to the iPad

Steve Jobs might disagree but competition is always good for the end user.

The race is therefore on to enable professional designers to publish rich content to the iPad (aka actually making some money from publishing) and QuarkXPress 9 offers three routes:

The first, export to ePub, is welcome but as a lowest common denominator static eBook format, it has one huge drawback: no-one is going to pay for the end product.

The second is support for the Blio format. As I discussed recently, this is a truly rich interactive format based upon XPS (a XAML-based cross between Flash and PDF) and should be viewable across iOS, Silverlight and Android devices. The big problem here is that currently the Blio eReader is still only available for Windows.

The third route is by far the most interesting. With the new App Studio for QuarkXPress 9,  designers can create rich layouts including slideshows, pop-ups, scrollable regions, video and so on, much as they currently can for Flash output,  while taking full advantage of all Quark’s repurposing capabilities such as multiple layouts and shared components.

Crucially they can then turn these into native iOS apps for distribution through Apple’s App Store. Moreover, once on the iPad, Quark’s primary userbase of magazine publishers can publish new content targeted to the app based on Quark’s issue-based tariff rather than Apple’s flat 30%.

It’s potentially exciting, but there are a number of issues that need to be borne in mind. Firstly the App Studio isn’t actually going to be included with the initial launch of QuarkXPress 9 but is instead due to follow as a free upgrade within 90 days. Only then will we see what the full iPad publishing experience is like – and users will realise that they need to sign up to become Apple developers ($99 per year) and will need a Mac or iPad if they want to preview their output (all of which is out of Quark’s hands but still significant). There’s also some confusion over how regular issue-based publishing will work based on Apple’s recent announcements regarding in-app subscriptions.

It’s also not clear how and when Quark intends to deliver similar capabilities for the expected tsunami of Android tablets. It’s important to realise that while Adobe has been wrong-footed over Flash, it certainly hasn’t given up and has come up with its own very different Adobe Digital Publishing platform which supports the iPad alongside all other devices.

It will take a while for the dust to settle, and for publishers to work out which solution suits them best but, after the disappointment of 8.5, QuarkXPress 9 certainly looks to be a serious contender.

That’s great news for all publishers including those using InDesign. Steve Jobs might disagree but competition is always good for the end user.

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