October 6, 2014 Last Updated 2:38 pm

Monday guest column: For many publishers, HTML5 web readers offer easy cross-platform compatibility

This week TNM has invited a series of guest columnists to contribute stories on new developments with their companies, platforms, etc. This first column is from Jake Sebastian, marketing creative and Communications Manager at Aquafadas

These past few weeks have been busy one for us here at Aquafadas. Along with an updated version of our platform, we’re releasing a project we’ve been working on for some time now—an HTML5-powered Web Reader. For the uninitiated, a web reader (or “web app,” depending on who you’re talking to) is essentially a web-based container app for the same type of content you might otherwise publish as a native mobile app or interactive e-book. They can exist as a stand-alone site, or can be embedded into existing sites or apps within a frame. While these types of web apps are often powered by Adobe Flash, the industry has been shifting heavily toward HTML5 for some time now—as more and more devices become HTML5 compatible and Flash continues to descend into obscurity.

So, what are some of the advantages and disadvantages of publishing content to an HTML5 Web Reader?

HTML5 is an essential component of a cross-platform publishing strategy.

web-readerIn today’s digital publishing market, the decision as to what you publish is inextricably linked to where you’re planning to publish it. Indeed, one of the greatest advantages of a digital publishing platform over custom development is the ability to design native mobile content that can then be published to many different platforms without extensive coding or redesign. For all our emphasis on ’born-digital’ content however, there remains a significant audience segment that simply isn’t going to be served by e-books and native iOS or Android apps. This is especially true for corporate publishers and enterprise applications, as many of the productivity tools these audiences use keep them tied to desktop computers during office hours. Add to that audience the nearly 4% of mobile device users who aren’t on iOS or Android (over 11 million users) and the need for a truly cross-platform digital publishing system becomes apparent.

Web apps are versatile and affordable.

Though an HTML5 Web Reader is a great addition to an existing strategy, for many organizations, it instead offers an easy and affordable way to test the market and establish a digital presence without a great deal of investment. Licenses for web apps tend to cost less than those for iOS or Android native apps, and the limited interactivity means they’re easier to design—more akin to an interactive e-book than a fully-fledged app. They’re also extremely versatile from a distribution standpoint, thanks to the ability to share them directly or as embedded content in other websites and native apps.

Interactivity is limited, but not as much as you might think.

One drawback of the Web Reader format is that fewer interactive elements are supported compared to native apps. Obviously, any function requiring an accelerometer or advanced finger gestures isn’t going to work in this interface, and the overall experience may vary somewhat from device to device. That being said, it is possible to create a very interactive user experience by using Adobe InDesign to create your web app content. Using actions, sub-layouts, layers and HTML, there exists a great deal of potential for talented designers to create stunning, innovative layouts in the web-reader format. Features are also being added regularly—we’re currently working to add multi-touch gesture support, as well as addressing other gaps between the Web Reader and native app experience.


Jake Sebastian is a NYC-based digital storyteller, marketing creative and Communications Manager at Aquafadas

  • David Pilcher 3 years ago

    Great post!

  • According to recent survey reports, HTML5 adoption by developers is much active now. This will further increase, the wat the developers approach and use this. This will also scale the demand of professional HTML5 developers.

  • Ben Styles 3 years ago

    “Obviously, any function requiring an accelerometer or advanced finger gestures isn’t going to work in this interface, and the overall experience may vary somewhat from device to device.”

    This is by no means a limitation of HTML5, only of a given implementation. I have built several HTML5 apps, both browser- and webview-based, that make use of device accelerometers and multi-gesture multi-touch.

    • Jake Sebastian 3 years ago

      Great point, Ben. Maybe I should have clarified that I was speaking about web apps created on digital publishing systems like ours, not all HTML5 apps.

      In fact, Aquafadas is currently working on introducing multi-touch capability to our reader, and I think we’ll continue to see a great deal of development to these tools across the industry—thanks to the rising demand for affordable, functional cross-platform publishing options.

    • Richard Dean Starr 3 years ago

      Interesting insight into the web app creation process. I’m curious, what about building in interactive functionality between a web reader app and another site? For example, say that you wanted to build in features that would allow a reader to share their comments on specific passages on a social networking site like Facebook or Goodreads? Assuming we’re setting aside DRM for the sake of this conversation, is that kind of thing possible?

  • Nick Martin 3 years ago

    Actually some Mac books have accelerometers built in. We were playing around with a interactive landing page which was pretty cool.