Design Decisions for Digital Publishing Apps

If you’re creating magazine apps for the iPad and other mobile devices, you have a lot of design decisions to make. Let’s go over a few of them.

Single-Folio or Multi-Folio Viewer App?

When you submit your content to the Apple Store or Android Market, each magazine or book requires its own branded viewer.

For most projects, the decision of whether to create a single-folio or multiple-folio viewer is straight-forward. If you intend to create a book or a one-off promotional piece, such as the Essential Guide to TRON, create a single-folio viewer. If you intend to create a magazine with multiple issues, such as The New Yorker, you need to create a multi-folio viewer that allows your customers to download folios as you publish them on the Adobe fulfillment server.

For multi-folio viewers, Adobe plans to charge $0.30 per download. Adobe does not charge anything for single-folio viewers, because they’re downloaded from the Apple Store or Android Market, not from the Adobe fulfillment server.

Orientation — Vertical, Horizontal, or Both?

You can create portrait-only, landscape-only, or dual-orientation folios. Note that you cannot mix and match orientation types, such as a horizontal-only and dual-orientation articles in the same folio. The layouts of single-orientation folios do not change when the customer rotates the iPad.

In a prerelease forum thread, one publisher claimed that magazine apps should be portrait-only because people are accustomed to reading portrait magazines. I don’t think that reasoning holds up. Aren’t those same people also accustomed to reading websites on landscape monitors? And watching t.v. and movies on landscape screens? I don’t think there’s a “right” orientation for the iPad.

I’ve seen well-designed portrait-only and landscape-only magazines. The new Golf Digest and Reader’s Digest apps are portrait only. One of my favorite apps, Harvest to Heat, is landscape only.

Golf Digest is portrait only.

Harvest to Heat is landscape only.

One major advantage to portrait-only or landscape-only folios is that you have to create only one design. If you have a printed magazine, converting the layout to a 768×1024 page size isn’t nearly as difficult as converting it to both a 768×1024 and 1024×768 page size.

Designing separate layouts for portrait and landscape orientations can be time-consuming. Furthermore, if you intend to make your magazine available on other mobile devices besides the iPad, creating both portrait and landscape orientations for 1024×768, 1024×600, and 800×600 devices can turn what may be a beneficial inconvenience into an unsustainable workflow.

Note: One concern with portrait-only magazines is the ability to play full-screen videos in landscape orientation. With the newest viewer (drop 9), this is now possible. With portrait-only folios, users can rotate the iPad to play a full-screen video in landscape.

Of course, the drawback to creating a single-orientation folio is that you may take away the customer’s preferred method of reading. Some people prefer viewing content in landscape mode. Like me. I have a folding iPad cover that lets the device sit comfortably on my lap or chest in landscape view. I don’t mind rotating the iPad every now and then, but I always want to go back to landscape. But my neighbor has an iPad cover that props up her iPad vertically, so she’s inclined to read in portrait orientation.

What Are the Best Options for Dual-Orientation Apps?

The most common approach is to redesign the same content for both landscape and portrait layout. This is the approach that the designers at WIRED, Martha Stewart Living, InDesign Magazine, iGizmo, Fine Cooking, and many others have taken. It provides flexibility and — for now — caters to the iPad’s groundbreaking design and a “wow!” factor. My guess is that the ability to view the same issue of a magazine in two orientations isn’t going to be as significant in the near future. Who knows?

Fine Cooking Holidays

Another option is to create a dual-orientation folio in which each orientation serves a different purpose. Examples:

  • The landscape orientation could provide a detailed visual overview with a slideshow or video, while the portrait orientation could include a text-intensive article.
  • For a how-to manual, the landscape layout could display the desired effect, such as a before/after photo for a Photoshop app, while the portrait layout could provide the instructions for creating that effect.
  • I saw a magazine that uses the same 700-pixel layout in both the portrait and landscape orientations, but the designers created a much wider navigation bar in landscape orientation. They also created smooth-scrolling articles rather than page-by-page articles to avoid a disjointed experience when rotating the iPad. Unfortunately, I can’t find that magazine on my iPad. One of my twin boys must have deleted it when he was experimenting with the cool wiggle feature. Sigh.

Weekend Magazin mixes its approach by providing the typical dual-orientation redesign for most articles, but every now and then, they signal that rotating the image displays a different photo.

Rotating the iPad can offer a much different picture

For Multi-Issue Folios, Should the Preview Folio Be Included or Downloadable?

When you create a single-folio viewer, the folio is baked in with the app. With a multi-folio viewer, you have a choice. You can provide a small .folio file that gets downloaded along with the viewer app, or you can provide only a viewer shell and allow customers to download free and retail content from the fulfillment server. (Apple requires that you provide free content for your viewer app.)

You can also combine the two approaches. For example, you can embed a folio that describes how to use the viewer, and you can upload a free preview issue.

To keep things simple, I think the best approach is to avoid baked in content. Just submit a shell viewer app and provide one or more free preview issues that customers can download. That way, if you need to edit the preview issues, you can simply upload a new version to the fulfillment server; your customers can click the Update button in the viewer library to get the new version. If you need to edit a baked-in folio, you’ll have to resubmit the viewer app to Apple.

What’s the Best Way to Provide Free Preview Content

If you’re charging money for your multi-folio viewer, you need to provide some free content that meets Apple’s requirements and (hopefully) convinces your customers to download the retail version or subscribe.

At the bare minimum, provide a table of contents and one or two articles. Another option is to provide more articles, but show only the first page or two of each. Here’s an example from Reader’s Digest in which editors provide just enough of an article to make you want to read more.

“How did he get out of jail? OK, I’ll buy it.”

Should Vertical Swiping Be Turned Off?

By default, swiping up and down displays different pages of an article, and swiping left and right displays different articles. Some designers believe that allowing both horizontal and vertical swiping can be disorienting, especially for inexperienced users. To simplify, they turn on the “Flatten” option for all articles, thereby allowing only horizontal swiping. (Flattening an article causes its pages to be displayed horizontally rather than vertically.)

Of course, this approach requires customers to swipe through every page of every article, sacrificing flexibility for simplicity.

You can see what you think of horizontal-only swiping by downloading apps like EVO and Weekend. In each, designers provide visual clues to indicate the end of an article.

It’s easy enough to try both approaches and do a usability test.

Smooth Scrolling or Page-by-Page Flipping?

Should you allow your customers to view the entire article by swiping smoothly, like a web page, or by swiping to turn the pages, like a flip book? Fortunately, you don’t have to decide one approach for the entire folio. You can make this decision for each article. Some designers turn on Smooth Scrolling for the table of contents and the credits pages. The InDesign Magazine designers turned on Smooth Scrolling for some articles and not for others.


Did I miss anything? Leave a comment.

50 Responses to Design Decisions for Digital Publishing Apps

  1. Pingback: RT: Design Decisions for Digital Publishing Apps « Adobe Digital Publishing

  2. Madison says:

    How does a small organization go about creating or setting up one of these branded viewers. We are a college magazine who has converted our publication into an iPad magazine as well as a print one. We have the .folio file and everything ready for the iPad, have tested it using the Adobe Content Viewer and everything is at the level we want, but now want to distribute it.

    How do we do this?

    • Bob Bringhurst says:

      To learn how to publish content before the official release, see the “iPad Publishing Process Overview.pdf” file in the Downloads section of the prerelease forum.

      A lot of small publishers are asking this question. While the Adobe stakeholders have worked out and publicized the details for larger publishers, they are still working out the plans for smaller publishers.

      • I applied yesterday, as per your recommendation, but so far I haven’t heard from any Adobe representative, hence, I don’t know if I was accepted or not for the Prerelease forum and there is no Download I can access, except the Adobe usual download section.
        Is there any other way to get the “iPad Publishing Process Overview.pdf” ? I suppose the more people that require info about this, the better for Adobe. Or am I wrong? Thanks in advance

  3. Alex Terry says:

    Great article.

    After reading through all the Adobe info I hadn’t realised there is no 30 cent charge per issue on the Single Folio apps.

    And that could have some serious bearing on our business choices. So thanks for highlighting it!

  4. Let me see if I understood, If I want to make a single time app, I should make a single folio and it will have the adobe viewer, So how much will adobe charge for this single ontime app???

    • Bob Bringhurst says:

      From the FAQ on the Adobe site:

      “Digital Publishing Suite will be available in both a Professional Edition and an Enterprise Edition. Pricing for the Professional Edition is US$699 per month plus a per-issue fee that scales with publisher volume. The Professional Edition price will allow publishers to access Digital Publishing Suite and create apps for all of their titles and publications. The Enterprise Edition is a custom, multiyear platform agreement that includes access to APIs for integration of back-end publishing services such as subscription management, print fulfillment, and e-commerce. Adobe also offers professional services to support enterprise-level custom engagements.”

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  7. Florian R says:

    Were do I find this “Flatten” option? Can’t find it… help is very appreciated!

    • Bob Bringhurst says:

      It’s one of the metadata fields in the Bundler over on the right side. You won’t see it if you’re using an older set of tools.

  8. Bob Bringhurst says:

    Ah, that’s the problem. You need to join the Digital Publishing Suite prerelease program to get the newest set of tools:

  9. Marcelo Gil says:

    Where can I find information about Enterprise Edition? My company was interested in buying a package once and manage the storage in our servers so we don’t have to pay Adobe averytime we sell an app.
    Is that possible?

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  12. Adobe does not charge anything for single-folio viewers, because they’re downloaded from the Apple Store or Android Market, not from the Adobe fulfillment server. does it means that If I make my portfolio as a Ipad mag can it be on itunes for free? or how much will a one time magazine cost?

    • Bob Bringhurst says:

      During prerelease, one-time iPad mags are free. When prerelease ends, the subscription costs appy. However, Apple won’t accept your portfolio app if they don’t consider it of enough value to the public. But that’s between you and Apple.

  13. ksng77 says:

    I’m just wondering what’s the difference btw .issues and .folio format?

    • Bob Bringhurst says:

      Just the name. For marketing purposes, Adobe decided to rename .issue files. Any .issue file was created with an older set of tools.

  14. JayneG says:

    I am a self-employed designer who would like to create prototypes and concepts to show a number of clients… with the notion that the clients would be taking over the publishing aspect… is the designer expected to pay $699 per month to be able to design with the Publishing Suite?

    • Bob Bringhurst says:

      I’m not the right person to answer questions about pricing. My understanding is that the $699 monthly price is for publishers who will create lots of issues. If you’re a one-time or infrequent viewer app creator, you’ll want to work through a intermediary, but those details haven’t been worked out yet.

  15. The question JayneG asks is also relevant to media students. It would be great if there was a student package with the Adobe DPS even if it would mean having to side load the files rather than publish them. Students need to learn to design for the future.

  16. james c says:

    Hi Bob

    I have a question following on from jayneG, so forgive me if this is not your thing like you said…..but

    just like Jayne I really want to get stuck into designing with theses new features. I’m not looking at selling at all, let alone thousands.

    So my question is can we go from the indesign cs 5.5 with a folio to a app thats more of a one off or personal folio.


    • Bob Bringhurst says:

      Yes, you can use InDesign CS5.5 (or ID CS5) to create folios, preview them on the iPad, and share them with individuals without paying extra. However, if you want to create a custom viewer app that you can submit to a store (such as the Apple Store), you need to subscribe to the Digital Publishing Suite at this time.

      • james c says:

        How can I create the folios? I also have been told, “You can use CS5/5.5 to create .folio files for review” but not how I go about this.

        All the tutorials I’ve watched talk about uploading to the DPS and using the content bundler, witch I can’t access or don’t seam able to.

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  18. Ilhan Yusuf says:

    Hello Bob,
    My colleague and I are designing a yearbook for a client using DPS. For the moment we are testing using our free Adobe IDs – we don’t have an Enterprise or Professional account, we are just using the Adobe Content Viewer on our ipads to see our test results.
    In terms of design and layout options, are there options that are not available to us as non-paying account holders?

    • Bob Bringhurst says:

      Design and layout options are identical. The Enterprise/Pro subscription lets you create a custom viewer to submit to a store.

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  21. Jill Kuczmarski says:

    Single Folio App “stuck” on last page

    I’ve finished designing my folio, tested and submitted my single folio apps (books) to iTunes Connect for review. My concern is that in my test app(s) on my iPad when I leave/jump out of one of my books, on the last page obviously, when I then click on that app later it is still sitting on the last page and I have to page all the way back to the front. And so my questions are:

    1. Is this just an issue in the tester version of my app and it will be corrected by Apple?
    2. OR, what did I miss in my settings that is not letting it ‘reset’ or loop back to the cover when it has reached the end?

  22. Mikke Gallardo says:

    Hi, I just started using DPS for the first time and I’m a bit lost. Will I be able to preview the Pinch and Zoom feature in the earlier stage of creating my folio? If so, how do I go about this?

    Another question is how do I convert an 8×5 inches document designed for print in indesign into an ipad? Do I use the indesign document with links and fonts or do I convert each of the indesign pages to a high resolution jpeg and place it in indesign to create my articles? Whew…I’d appreciate any inputs…

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  24. Jennifer says:

    I am now worried. I am a one-person creative team with a new magazine and have one issue in the newsstand that has been for sale since early spring. I now have issue 2 ready to go and it was my thought that I just have to finish building it and then I can publish. I didn’t think I had to submit to the apple store again, since the first was approved. Am I wrong? if I do have to submit – how long with the wait be for the second issue?

    • Bob Bringhurst says:

      Apple requires you to submit each in-app purchase for review. The approval time is usually much faster than it is for app approval.

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  28. Are there any thoughts on developing a continuous publishing format? Where you can continually add to the ‘publication’ and the user is updated with all new articles when they use the app? I’m very interested in this.

    • Bob Bringhurst says:

      As a multi-folio app or a single-folio app? DPS Tips has frequently updated folios. I’m not aware of a publisher that updates a single-folio app for that purpose.

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  30. iñaki says:

    Buenos días, como verás te escribo en español. Me hace falta ideas para llevar a cabo un proyecto. Tengo numerosas páginas que en pdf que las quiero enlazar con índices que he hecho en indesign, pero lo cierto es que no sé como hacerlo para que quede una presentación magnífica y la gente se la pueda descargar, no sé si hacer una página web y colgarlo ahí o…. ¿Me puede ayudar?
    Gracias de antemano