Aquafadas Digital Publishing System 2.0 review

The latest incarnation of the Aquafadas Digital Publishing system is a richer offering, with new interactive and layout features, as well as support for ePub3 and beta support for Android devices. What rains on this welcome parade however is that as yet there’s no supporting documentation for the new features – the PDF on the Aquafadas website had yet to be updated at time of writing.

As before, System 2.0 bundles Adobe InDesign content together with interactive elements into a publishable app - either the AvePDF option using existing InDesign documents or AveMAG, which allows you to start with a blank canvas. There is now a single InDesign plug-in, which when installed, adds a separate menu for digital publishing in the host application. Clicking this or the Windows>Extensions menu allows you to bring up the AVE Project Manager panel, used mainly for layout, or the AVE Interactivity menu, for ‘enriching’ page elements and making them triggers for interactivity. To use the latter, you select images, boxes and other page elements in your InDesign document and a list of compatible interaction options are made available. Added to the existing enrichments, which include movies, pan-and-zoomable pictures and more unique abilities such as embedding projects from Comic Composer, are new RSS-driven dynamic slideshows and the SubLayout, which provides support for scrollable layouts.  We were able to create an example of the latter by drag and dropping a separate InDesign file onto a frame in a page. Clicking on the frame gave access to the SubLayout dialog, which offered various options to create a scrollable region from the document inside the frame. Also new in this area is the enrichment which embeds a link to Google Maps, and is able to take advantage of the hardware to respond to the user’s location.  Both worked well in the resulting test app we published. There are also new or enhanced versions of games such as jigsaw, mazes, picture and memory games and vector drawing and painting utilities. The games are of good quality, but of limited use without documentation. Furthermore eight of the enrichment options, including most of the games, are priced at €99 a shot.

A vector colouring game and the ability to embed Google Maps in your publication -  courtesy of two of the new enrichment options in System 2.0

Advances in the hardware and formats available have prompted other new features: once you’re ready to export the iOS app,  you can select the normal AVE output format or AVE-HD which means you can use high-resolution graphics (2048 x1536 pixels) and HD video supported by an iOS device with a retina display. As a result images can now be four times larger, text crisper and video of a much higher resolution, though be aware that app size will also increase. System 2.0 still seems to require that the image in InDesign is in a web-friendly format such as JPG however; using PSD files resulted in blank spaces even in our new AVE-HD apps. There also seemed to be a bug with the Project Settings dialog of the AVE Project Manager, which caused it to freeze several times when we were in the middle of authoring apps. Add in a couple of application crashes and you’ve got a product that still needs a few tweaks. Rival digital publishing solutions from Adobe and Mag+ also support the enhanced hardware, so it’s not the only solution out there. Aquafadas is also following the others by offering a way to publish on Android (see box).

There’s also the new ability to export to ePub3 format, which supports full text search, high-resolution images, video, read-aloud audio and slideshows. Authoring follows the same path as AVE, until choosing the ePub option under Export, where we were prompted to buy a generator key (prices start at €115 for one publication). You can test the ePub file before purchase in Apple iBooks or using Adobe Digital Editions on the Mac, but you’ll be faced with text scrambling after some pages and image watermarking throughout. InDesign CS6 also offers ePub3 export from within the application, with no such restrictions, so again there’s nothing unique here. 

System 2.0 offers support for scrollable regions inside a page, created and customised through the use of the SubLayout enrichment 

OUR VERDICT

Aside from some annoying bugs, System 2.0 continues to offer a straightforward and fairly low cost way to get into digital publishing on tablets. The welcome support for higher-resolution images/HD video, Google Maps and Android are obviously key reasons to upgrade, but Aquafadas has to get its documentation updated to suit.

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