Since Adobe made a decision to kill Digital Publishing Suite (DPS), I’ve found myself looking for something to fill the void it left. Yes, I think that Publish Online and even Fixed Layout EPUB are terrific methods of publishing interactive content from InDesign, but they both have drawbacks that keep them from becoming a complete substitute. This is especially true for those of us that loved DPS Single Edition apps.
While the creation process was nothing short of convoluted, DPS apps worked beautifully. To me, the biggest problem with them was that they had to be distributed through the App Store. This meant you had to have an Apple Developer Account for $99/year, and own a Mac to create and submit the app to Apple. Assuming those hurdles weren’t too much, the seemingly interminable wait for approval or rejection (based on some highly classified and unpredictable process) would begin. And if they were rejected, good luck getting it reviewed.
Because of that, one of the more common questions I would receive from clients and prospects was how to bypass that entire process and get the app on an iPad directly. This was very common for clients that wanted to use the process for proprietary or confidential information. While the short-term answer was to use the Adobe Content Viewer, it wasn’t a great solution given the requirements for sharing of DPS folios. We’d have to provide all of the email addresses of the recipients and then provide directions to download and install the viewer. This also required each of them to have an Adobe ID.
The other choice was to pay Adobe a king’s ransom for an enterprise DPS account and even then, the certificates would eventually expire.
Lately, I’ve been working more and more with in5; an absolutely brilliant InDesign plugin from Ajar Productions. in5 started its life several years ago as a kickstarter project. Billed as a way to get HTML5 content out of InDesign, each upgrade has come with new features and capabilities. Highest among the features is that it supports DPS overlays. A recent release added an in5 overlays menu which duplicates the capability in Adobe’s DPS overlays panel.
As an added bonus, in5 supports native InDesign animations so there’s no need to go to an external application to create them. It’s the best of both DPS and Fixed Layout EPUB.
Web apps in a snap
All of the interactive features in the world are meaningless unless you have a way to output and view them reliably AND make it simple for the end user. in5 passes those tests with flying colors.
The export dialog practically qualifies as a wizard. Among the choices are page navigation (swiping, next/previous buttons, fade), text rendering (I like the SVG output, myself) and home screen icon choice. There are a host of advanced options for tracking, SEO, and metadata. About the only thing missing is a Dreamweaver-like FTP feature but that’s not a big deal. I use Filezilla to upload output to my webserver.
Distributing a web app is as easy as providing a URL. But before you can do that, as I alluded to earlier, you have to upload your in5 output to your (or your client’s) web server. Yes, you need a web server but web hosting can be had for next to nothing these days. (If you need hosting, I highly recommend SiteGround).
When you visit the URL from an iPad you’ll get directions to download it. It’s just a matter of one or two taps and as if by magic, you’ll find a new icon on your home screen.
And it’s all done without going through the App Store, paying for a Developer Account, and dealing with Apple’s whims on what constitutes an app.
Once downloaded to the iPad, the app will be available for offline use. Need it updated? As long as the iPad is online, if you update the files on the web server, the app will update in the background. There is no interaction needed by the user.
Android, Windows, Mac, etc
in5 can also output a web app for Android. If you want to display the files on a Mac or Windows you can do that do too but not in app form (though Windows 10 does support progress web apps). Copy the output files to the local drive and open the index.html file from there, or put them on a web server, and as long as you’re online you can view it like any other website.
All of this is covered in-depth at Ajar Productions’ website with plenty of videos and articles. I’ll also throw in a plug for my Digital Publishing Suite Essential Training course on LinkedIn Learning. While it hasn’t been updated for quite some time, the methodology for creating interactive overlays hasn’t changed so it can be used as a guide for creating content with in5.
Finally, as an added bonus, (if you want to call it that), in5 allows you to create a website using InDesign. I can’t possibly stress enough that I do not recommend using it for that unless it’s a quick one-off kind of thing with only a few pages. For a project like that, it’s a good replacement for Muse.
I’m a big believer in using the right tool for the right job and for me, creating a website with InDesign is like using the back of a screwdriver to bang nails into a board. For that, I recommend using WordPress.
in5 is available via monthly or annual subscription directly through Ajar Productions. A trial version is also available.