The request sounds simple enough: take paper-based training manuals and turn them into something that’s iPad-friendly. There are lots of iPad apps that support formats like Word, PDF and EPUB, so how difficult could it be? The problem is that very few apps provide all of the key benefits of going paperless, such as centralized syncing with offline viewing, version control, embedded audio and video, easy navigation and linked documents.
Here were the client’s requirements:
- a simple development workflow that avoided complicated and expensive authoring tools
- the ability to push out updated guides automatically
- offline viewing when no internet connection was available
- embedded videos
- links between guides
First Attempt, First Failure
We started with a Word to Adobe Acrobat workflow. This lets authors create everything they need, publish to PDF and then add multimedia and hyperlinks in Acrobat with minimal training. To take care of automatic updates and offline syncing, we decided to use Dropbox. It pushes files out automatically when an internet connection is available and “favourite” files are available offline. Dropbox also supported embedded video (one of few PDF readers that did). Unfortunately, it didn’t support links between files, but that was identified as a non-critical requirement that we could work around.
This solution worked well until Dropbox released version 3.0 for iOS halfway through the project. Video capability was dropped. Where video used to be, a big white box now greeted users.
The Dropbox update meant we had to find a new solution. Luckily we discovered Documents by Readdle, which supported syncing with Dropbox, video in PDFs, and, surprisingly, links between documents. Syncing worked, video worked, updates worked, and best of all, the app was completely free. Our Word to Acrobat to Dropbox to Readdle Documents solution worked and was well received by the client.
Of course, some tradeoffs had to be made to keep things simple and cost-effective. Content updates can be challenging because they require republishing Word files and adding multimedia and hyperlinks in Acrobat again. Our client expects very infrequent updates, so it works for our needs, but might not work for other situations. Syncing is also a bit cumbersome in that the Documents app has to be open for the sync to happen; it’s not as simple as just having the iPad within wireless range for updates to be pulled down. Someone has to open the app.
After developing this solution, we were asked to create an alternative for iPads that will always have an internet connection. Stay tuned for our solution!