Fixed Layout EPUB is now a viable alternative to DPS SE apps.
EPUB has been around as an official standard for years, but it’s not a format I ever got overly excited about. While I readily admit to being a geek, cracking open EPUBs to edit what is arguably some of the worst HTML and CSS I’ve ever seen wasn’t something I really wanted to spend my time doing. Add to the fact that just as EPUB was gaining steam, DPS came along in 2010 and my focus moved in that direction. I really haven’t looked back…until now.

When Adobe launched InDesign CC2014 they added fixed layout EPUB as one of the formats it was capable of exporting to. It was a nice start but it was a very static format and wasn’t really capable of much in the way of interactivity especially when compared to DPS. Fast forward a few months to the release of InDesign CC2014.1 (hey, I didn’t come up with this naming convention) and I think FXL EPUB is finally ready for prime time. The support of interactive features like MSOs, buttons, web content, and animations (something DPS still can’t do) while  maintaining the layout makes it a viable choice for publishing rich, interactive content.

The support of interactive features like MSOs, buttons, web content, and animations (something DPS still can’t do) while  maintaining the layout makes it a viable choice for publishing rich, interactive content.

Should you choose FXL over DPS Single Edition?

I don’t think I have to tell you that I’m a fan of DPS and think that Single Edition apps are a terrific way to distribute your content, but that doesn’t mean it’s a perfect choice for every occasion. Here for your perusal are some reasons you might consider FXL EPUB over DPS SE.

  • You don’t need an Apple Developer account—In addition to not having to pay that $99/year you’ll be spared from going through the convoluted process of creating certificates for an app.
  • You won’t have to build and submit an app—Even if you survive the certificate creation, there’s still a matter of building the app. While Adobe has done an admirable job of creating the DPS App Builder, it’s not as straightforward a process as it could be. And then there’s the submission process which requires entering a multitude of information in the iTunes Connect portal and Apple’s Application Loader.
  • Avoid rejection—There have been many times that DPS SE apps have been rejected by Apple for being too book-like with the suggestion that they’d be better positioned in the iBooks Store. You might just as well avoid the headaches and go straight there. You’ll need to register with Apple to do so. If you want to learn more, Apple has an FAQ about the process.
  • You don’t need a Mac—Believe it or not, there are a lot of Windows users out there. I know because I’m one of them. I’ve got a MacBook Air mostly because I need one…not because I want one.
  • Beyond iPad—While the FXL experience on iBooks on the iPad is excellent, you’re not limited to that device. In fact, any device, including desktop and laptop computers, with a compatible reader will allow the viewing of FXL EPUBs.
  • You want to use native animations—For the longest time, the InDesign animation panel sat there mockingly; just daring me to use it. Of course it was, and still is worthless for DPS. Almost every animation feature including timing is supported in FXL EPUB.

EDIT (because I can’t believe I forgot to include it):

  • Searchable text—Yup, you can search an EPUB, something that just can’t be done in DPS.

What’s not supported?

The only major DPS feature that is not supported directly in InDesign for FXL EPUB is scrollable content. I haven’t really taken much of a deep dive into it but I suspect there may be an HTML workaround but it’s going to be just that, a workaround, at least for now. Based on what the InDesign team has done in such a short period of time, I’m hoping they come up with a way to add a way to do this directly in InDesign. Other features unsupported are pan and zoom and panoramas, but I can certainly live without them.

There’s also a very limited number of compatible eReaders but since iBooks is one of them (and from what I’ve seen in limited testing, the best of them), you’re already reaching the same audience as DPS SE. Other compatible readers are Readium, Kobo, Google Play Books and Adobe Digital Edition 4.0 (though it seems to work better on Mac than Windows). Like DPS SE apps, however, I strongly encourage you to test your EPUB on multiple platforms to be sure things are functioning properly. Kobo, for instance has some known issues with text crowding in some EPUBs; something they’re aware of and working on.

Want to learn a bit more? Check out this document written by Adobe’s James Lockman.

So, what do you think? Is this something you’re interested in?