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Turning InDesign Files to iPad Apps

I’ll be speaking at Macworld Expo (San Francisco) in a couple of weeks on the topic of converting InDesign files to the iPad. So I’ve been exploring the various options available. I doubt this is a comprehensive list, but it’s a start. If you know of more solutions, feel free to post them in the comments below.

Using InDesign

Some solutions let you add interactive features directly within InDesign, and then export a file that can be converted into an iPad iApp.

  • Adobe’s Digital Publishing Solution (DPS): This used to be called the “digital magazine publishing solution” (DMP), but fortunately someone at Adobe came to their senses and realized that it’s useful for more than just magazines. Some third-party integrators/developers (such as MEI) are basing their workflow on DPS.
  • Woodwing: Many of the world’s best-known magazines are basing their iPad versions on Woodwing’s solution. This solution is based on the popular Woodwing workflow server solution.
  • RovingBird: Relatively new to the scene is the RovingBird ePublisher. This may be a significantly less expensive solution. Stay tuned for more interesting stuff coming from them.
  • Aquafadas: This French company looks to have a really great solution, too. [added 4/11].
  • PressRun: This one seems priced for larger publishers, but offers some very cool features (both InDesign to app and XML to app). [added 4/11; revised 7/11 because PressRun now has good packages that are aimed at small to medium publishers, too.]
  • MagPlus: Interesting ideas, from the makers of the Popular Science app. [added 4/11].

Convert PDF files to iApps

Other solutions take a different approach: You export a PDF file from InDesign (or any other application, I guess), then upload that, add interactivity using their proprietary solution (usually through a web browser) and then they convert the file to an iApp for you (or, in some cases, force you to use their app).

  • PixelMags: This company is converting some big-selling magazines for publishers based on PDF files.
  • RareWire: With a couple of big name magazines starting to use their services, they still say they offer products for as little as $99/month. I’m curious!
  • Mygazines: They’re primarily focused on web-delivery solutions, but they offer something called a “wr(App)” for a couple grand per app. Hm.
  • Texterity: Actually, I’m not sure if they’re doing apps from PDF or not. Might just be HTML wrapped in an App? I’ll need to get more info on this one.
  • Issuu: Oh, nevermind, it is only available for Android at this time. Probably Flash based. But they promise an iPad version “soon.”
  • MagCloud: This HP company is primarily known for on-demand print magazines, but you can now publish your uploaded PDF for the iPad. They do not add any additional interactivity. It appears as though they don’t make an iApp, but rather just allow you to view your magazine in their free app.
  • Zinio: Zinio is one of the oldest players in the digital magazine market. They have some cool technology, but it’s exceedingly difficult to get details on how it works, how much it costs, and so on. I get the sense that they don’t really want to talk to anyone who isn’t a large publisher. We’ll see if that changes.

Other suggestions? Ideas? Note that I’m obviously not discussing EPUB or PDF or other options in this article. I talked about those in an earlier post.

David Blatner

David Blatner

David Blatner is the co-founder of the Creative Publishing Network, InDesign Magazine, and the author or co-author of 15 books, including Real World InDesign. His InDesign videos at are among the most watched InDesign training in the world. You can find more about David at
David Blatner

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28 Comments on “Turning InDesign Files to iPad Apps

  1. Your use of the words “significantly less expensive” caught my eye, and while they might be accurate it’s still pretty expensive when–with their cheapest option, which doesn’t give me control of the product–a single publication is going to cost nearly what I paid for CS5 Design Premium (not an upgrade) AND a pretty spiffy new PC to run it on.

    So I’m curious: what is about the making of publications as iPad apps that justifies companies charging so much? Is there a lot of labor on their end? I’ve assumed (dangerous, I know) that DPS and now Roving Bird are doing this with software, not paying for careful hands-on coding by a genius with knowledge and skills beyond what the rest of us losers can even imagine. If they’re doing it with software, then I guess they’re charging large amounts because they can get companies to pay it.

    The target market is obviously not me, my clients or other small fish. But there are a lot of small fish who want to do this, so my bigger (and more hopeful) question is who’s going to target that market? What’s preventing someone from coming up with a solution that costs a few hundred bucks, can do everything that DPS or Roving Bird are offering, and that we can just USE as needed? I need to make a book or mag into an app. I run this software. I have an app. Seems like that would sell like crazy.

    Given the number of miraculous and amazing things that people have come up with in the form of plugins and scripts, I have a hard time believing no one is capable of making this happen.

    (I don’t know much about how iPad apps work, or what black magic is involved. Maybe there’s something about it that is insanely more complicated than all the other insanely complicated things we routinely purchase affordable software to do. Maybe it is black magic and we’re paying to compensate the loss of souls.)

    Anyone care to enlighten/scold/school me on this?

  2. I hope that I can announce soon some very interesting news about iPad (+other tablets) support for eDocker. And we are going to have a business model that suites for small publishers and free publications pretty well.

  3. Does Adobe?s Digital Publishing Solution still just create large JPGs therefore not allowing you to select the text? & the filesize for the mags were huge.

    Saw some interviews with Scrollmotion on the Esquire app, they seem like they’ve got it right.

  4. Its an interesting market place for sure.

    What stops me from buying any of the existing solutions is the knowledge that someone will soon be releasing a sub US$1000 CS5 to App solution and I’ll be faced with explaining to my partners why I’ve just spent over $5000 for a similar package.

  5. I’m not sure I understand all the fuss about “apps” for PDFs. We’ve converted every issue from our 18 years of publishing to iPad compatible PDFs and have been selling them directly from our website now for three months. Lots and lots of them. We simply recommend GoodReader as the recommended app for viewing PDFs.

    Other than the obvious marketing advantages of being in the Apple App Store where we might find new customers, we don’t see much reason to convert a simple PDF into a iPad “app” that is still simply a PDF. In fact, it would seem silly to have, in our case, 92 separate apps on the iPad, one for each issue. Makes much more sense to have them as documents in GoodReader or some other PDF viewer.

    Just my couple of pennies worth.

    What are we missing?

  6. If eDocker can match what RovingBird are showing on their demo video, they’ll be the one!!

    It’s undeniable that the iPad offers a unique user experience. Clients will soon ask for such products, which are more than an interactive pdf.

    A knowledge of HTML, CSS and few behavioural scripts is not enough to start developing for the iOS. Then we know InDesign well enough when it comes to developing layouts, that it is natural to be looking for a solution based on it.

    I am still confused with Apple Ad-Hoc publications which is what RovingBird Standard option is all about. From Apple specs, 100 iPad copies could be distributed, which may be enough in most cases. And for more the cost of publishing it on the App Store could be passed on the the client…

    Any light on this from the guys at InDesignSecrets would be great!

  7. I’ve bookmarked edocker in anticipation of their next big announcement.

    Meantime, for us, taking our story into the app store is HUGE. Interactivity & navigation are big issues, but SPACE is another. Can’t take up too much on an ipad–so, I’m assuming many of these companies have their own special server space– that streams your content smoothly. Also, the code for apps is really tight on use of space.

    I’m also not sure if you can equate an interactive app vs a pdf file. Ever experienced the Toy Story 3 app? Stunning use of graphics, sound and movement. Engaging for the intended audience — and a bonus audience of adults as well, including me.

    Then, there are the enhanced ebooks– “The Great Santini” is an example of a kind of lazy version– but there is video streaming inside an edoc, making it a bit more compelling– but just a bit. “A ways to go” in this technology.

    Sorry– I’m delighted with this topic!!! Thanks to all who are weighing in and expanding my horizons!

  8. Brooks: I loved your comment. Quietly making some green with PDFs. (Note all our eBooks are PDFs too.) Love it.

    It’s disheartening that the marketplace is apparently going to ignore PDF. To me it’s the one format that could be both interactive (for iPad/tablet apps) and reflowable (for eReader software and devices).

    Maybe as the PDF reader apps gain strength, we’ll see a renaissance.

  9. We just did an 8-page demo version that includes video and slideshows. We used Publish88 and found it a good, affordable solution and the customer service was fantastic.

  10. What is this about reflowable PDFs? How does one create a reflowable PDF? I found a article from Adobe about how to do it, but it was for Microsoft Office, and Windows 2000…

    Is there any support for creating reflowable PDFs directly from InDesign, or is it something that has to be done in Acrobat? How do you reflow the PDF? Just by changing the orientation of your device? I have never, ever seen a reflowable PDF. Does anyone have a link to an example?

  11. @Kelly: That’s more or less what a “tagged pdf” is. If it’s tagged, then Acrobat (or some other pdf reader) can reflow it. (In Acrobat, you can choose View > Zoom > Reflow.) But it won’t be pretty! :)

  12. I was curious to see that Zmags was not in your PDF to iPad list – while I don’t use them presently, they’ve seemed like a solution on par with Mygazines. Any thoughts?

  13. If tablet manufacturers follow RIMs lead and include Flash then do we need the extortionately priced offerings highlighted above? I think Apple have helped cause this problem by not allowing Flash on the iPad. Which as an iPad owner/user infuriates me greatly.

  14. There’s a company in NYC that’s been doing a lot of smartphone apps called Nov8rix ( that is launching the iPad Publisher early Nov 2011.

    Might be worth a look. Their smartphone apps are pretty cool.

  15. Is there a way to view interactive pdfs without having to go through the different DPS software? In other words, supplying pdfs to the viewer and they can open up the pdf that’s interactive?

  16. I can create a semi interactive PDF portfolio/book and send it to whomever I want as many times as I want. Or I can create a Flash portfolio/book that is as interactive as they come and I can send that to whomever I want as many times as I want. But when it comes to me wanting to share my content interactively with someone on an iPad or iPhone it seems that I am very limited unless I spend more money to “publish” or “host” or whatever.

    It sounds like a lot of us want a solution that we can install on our computer (just like we did with Photoshop, Illustrator, etc). And we want to be able to distribute that to anyone and everyone for free if we choose (or charge them). I undersatnd that an App is not a PDF. Neither is a Flash presentation, but Flash has done well for quite a while now without requiring us to spend more money to “publish” or “host” or whatever.

    I would like the distribution ease of a PDF with the interactivity of Flash without all the hoops and fees.

    How do we make this happen?

  17. vjoon’s K4 system has the function of doing this. It’s a fully fledged Multi Channel Publishing System.

    It is able to convert print ready InDesign layouts to resized tablet layouts. It has everything that the Woodwing system has I believe and possibly more.

  18. The BEST and cheapest way is to use – I spent a year researching various ways to get my magazine as an APP and didn’t want to spend $1000 per issue or $2500 plus a year as I run a FREE magazine for magicians. Since using Revizzit we have had ovef 70,000 readers. You just upload your PDF files of your magazine to the site and away you go – it’s all interactive. They offer features that nobody else does. For example – readers can turn the magazine on or off on their iPad so they don’t waste space with older issues. I design my magazine using Indesign (you can use anything as long as you can convert it to a PDF) – and use interactive links etc. plus video and so on. The magazine is A4 size but it pretty much works with any size.

    WELL WORTH LOOKING IN TO for anybody who wants to do maazines or e-books or sell videos online. I have since uploaded 24 of my books I’ve written plus vidoes to their site – it’s passive income for me. As far as magazines or books go nobody can copy them –

    The user simply downloads the FREE revizzit app on their ipad or computer and away they go. It also has a clever system should you want people to pay and subscribe to the magazine. As you can tell I’m a huge fan and now have 8 magazines up there – having been using it for over a year now.

  19. I will appreciate your advise: I am an experienced InDesing user/designer for prepress But new in the digital publishing world.
    Is one of the solutions mentioned above (From DPS to Mag+) might work for me if I am designing
    information booklets for an insurance company and need to make a digital- more interactive version of publication?
    (this type of booklets are given free to the insurance company clients).
    In which way can the company distribute these digital publications to their clients? (again that must be free of charge to the clients).

  20. I, too, would love to keep the conversation going on this topic going into 2015. I work for a school and would like to help them with their transition from mostly print to the digital realm and especially tablets. Student planners, handbooks, strategic plans, etc., etc. I’d like to use InDesign files to as a vehicle to get me there!

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