The story of iPaper

Adobe began doing just that with the next Acrobat release, version 3, whose Movie and Sound tools let designers add video and audio to produce simple multimedia PDFs. Acrobat 3 also had greatly improved compression and page-by-page progressive rendering to speed web delivery, and could be viewed directly within the latest Netscape and Internet Explorer browsers, complete with links to external PDFs and URLs. The future began to look like a twin-track web, where browsers would seamlessly render both plain HTML and design-rich PDF content. Add HTML rendering to its ubiquitous cross-platform Reader and Adobe would be able to provide a single integrated offline and online design platform.

The story of iPaper

Design today

Back then, I confidently believed that Adobe and iPaper were the future of design, and getting it half-right isn’t bad! Adobe does indeed dominate design, and PDF has assisted Adobe’s rise – as the glue that holds together the Creative Suite and as an important collaboration tool, delivery mechanism for commercial print and offline output format. However, Adobe’s success has had almost nothing to do with web design (mercifully passing over the bloated and unloved GoLive).

It wasn’t just me who mistakenly believed the print publishing revolution was over: Quark, too, wasted development effort on QuarkImmedia and on embarrassingly underpowered HTML capabilities for QuarkXPress, taking its eye off its core print market. Meanwhile Adobe, rather than spend effort turning PDF into an iPaper format (which Quark would be better placed to exploit), realised it needed to make money to survive, which meant attacking Quark head-on in its print-based homeland. InDesign, Adobe’s replacement for the ageing PageMaker, achieved exactly that by offering superior layout and typographic capabilities, with features such as paragraph-wide line composing and optical margin alignment. InDesign reclaimed the high ground for Adobe, and restored the print income stream that its invention of PostScript had originally tapped.

Quark isn’t giving up without a fight, however, and its recent release 8 of QuarkXPress resumed the offensive by claiming to be “Revolutionizing Publishing – Again.” It’s certainly the most impressive release in years, opening up whole new creative avenues for the print designer. In other ways, though, QuarkXPress 8 seems only too familiar, with its Interactive panel that turns your print-based project into an all-singing electronic version with hyperlinks, basic animation, audio and video – the ghost of QuarkImmedia returns after 12-and-a-half years! What enables Quark to resurrect its iPaper dream is the new online delivery format, neither bulky bitmapped QuarkImmedia nor PostScript-based PDF but vector-based Flash SWF, which enables fully scalable rendering of high-quality print in a highly compressed web-friendly format that can keep the text live and searchable (far more important now, thanks to Google). Better still, it doesn’t require a new proprietary reader – 99% of the internet audience already has the Flash player installed. Now whenever you produce a print layout, you can also produce a universally accessible, interactive internet version for just a couple of minutes extra work! This is exciting stuff and might have proved the killer weapon in the Quark/Adobe battle, had not the latest version of InDesign CS4 added more-or-less identical direct Flash export a couple of months later…

More to the point, the world has moved on. Had Quark succeeded in supplying iPaper capability ten years ago when the Flash player first established itself, it almost certainly would have proved the game changer – magazine and newspaper publishers would have pounced on it to transfer their brands to the web. But Quark failed to deliver iPaper when publishers were crying out for it, and as they simply couldn’t afford not to be on the web, and lacking any simple turn-key solution, publishers of brands such as The Guardian, New Scientist and PC Pro each had to come up with their own solution.

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