QuarkXPress 9.5 with App Studio review

The new Quark App Studio represents a shift from the proprietary AVE format and workflow developed by Aquafadas to one based on HTML5 (from Quark's recent acquisition of PressRun). That same technology is also now available as a plug-in for InDesign and integrated within QuarkXpress, allowing both to potentially develop content for iOS, Kindle Fire, and Android devices. The common component is a Cloud-based publishing platform at my.appstudio.net, to which both applications export.

Quark has implemented an App Studio Publishing palette upload panel within QuarkXpress as part of the 9.5 update. The same route is available in InDesign via the App Studio Exporter in the Window > Extensions menu. Neither will respond if there's no corresponding publication, so make sure you set one up at my.appstudio.net before you try to do anything in the desktop apps.

Once this setup stage is complete, the actual authoring runs very smoothly. An App Studio Layout Type is chosen as a new project, with iPad/Universal tablet, Kindle Fire, iPhone and Android Phone ‘layout members’ on offer.  All can be selected together and opened as individual tabs in a single project window, as part of a layout family within a single project file. Kindle Fire and iPad allow/require both horizontal and vertical aspects of the content, while an OS Bar check box controls whether the layout member allows room for the status bar at the top of the tablet screen.

You need to author for both horizontal and vertical views, but this is made easier in QuarkXPress 9.5 - dragging an item like a block of text across from the vertical window will duplicate it on the horizontal window. You can also use the Item > Copy to Other Layouts command to automatically populate the other layouts in the layout family, relative to the page/device size and shape or in the same place throughout. It’s effective for the most part, but you’ll probably have to tweak most of the copied layouts. Content shared in this way is automatically synchronised throughout when changes are made to a single instance. Also if a new page is added to one layout, that page is automatically added to all the others. Both these helpers impact favourably on the time taken to create multiple editions of an article.

After you’ve assembled a basic static layout in traditional QuarkXPress fashion, the HTML5 palette (from the Window menu) is used to add interactivity.  AVE and ePub authoring are still supported in QuarkXPress, so clicking on Window>App Studio brings up the legacy AVE-based interactive palette which may lead to some confusion. Some more refinement of palette naming and the menu system would be helpful given the expanded options.

Text boxes in an App Studio layout in QuarkXPress are set to export as HTML text to allow them to be searchable and selectable. However, this means that you cannot apply some of the higher-end text controls such as tracking, kerning, hyphenation, and baseline shift to text in such boxes. Some fonts aren’t supported either. To replicate the layout exactly in such circumstances, you have to check the Convert to Graphic on Export in the text box Properties bar - but it’s no longer searchable or selectable as text. Another restriction is having to use Web image formats (JPG, PNG, GIF) when creating Picture Zoom interactive images.

Once uploaded to the appstudio.net account, which can take a while, you’re able to view and test App Studio issues in the free App Studio Previewer iPad app. App Studio exports static content faithfully, but we found it quite easy to mess up when authoring the interactive content, so give yourself a lot of time for testing the publication.  When you want to publish for real, App Studio pricing plans start at £139.95 for a single edition app (Adobe’s DPS equivalent is free to Creative Cloud users) or £69.95 per month for a multi-issue publication (which appears more reasonable than Adobe DPS).  A 30-day free trial of the platform is available, though it’s only really useful for testing the water.

Adding Interactivity

In common with the legacy AVE workflow, Quark’s new HTML5 driven App Studio allows you select items on the QuarkXPress page and assign to them a variety of interactive abilities, such as making them buttons or scrolling text boxes. This version uses the HTML 5 palette, which offers some changes to different interactive types on offer. A new option is Web View, which can be used to include changeable content (such as ads) or add custom interactivity to an App Studio issue. You can use Web View to display HTML, PDF, Word, Excel, PowerPoint, RTF, and several other types of files. Video scores over the ability of the previous ‘Movie’ interactive type by offering to link to a video on the YouTube and Vimeo sites, in addition to jumping to a specific URL. You can still embed a video file - though App Studio issues only support H.264 video up to 720p, with restrictions on the audio side too.

OUR VERDICT

Though some refinement is still required, digital publishing with QuarkXPress is more streamlined in version 9.5 and improved by the new App Studio. As well as still providing a path for AVE and ePub publication workflows, it offers a fairly stable HTML5-based publication route, with an enhanced variety of interactive features on offer.

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