There are a number of different options available with regards to which ‘viewer’ is used to display a Flip Page digital edition. The term viewer refers to the ‘user interface’ that is displayed when a reader accesses a Flip Page edition. The paginated content, toolbars, background and interactive elements are what comprise the ‘viewer’.
There are three different viewer options provided when setting up a Flip Page digital publication. They are;
1. Flash viewer
2. Flash 2.0 viewer
3. HTML5 viewer
(We have recently removed the HTML viewer from the available viewer options in the dashboard.)
Understanding the technology involved
Most Flip Page digital editions are displayed via a web browser such as Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, or Apple Safari. Of course, offline editions and Native Apps are offered but for the sake of clarity the focus will remain on digital editions that are accessed via a web browser.
A web browser works like a translator. It takes information that is provided in the form of a ‘coding language’ and converts it into something that the end user can understand (ie. text, images, videos, etc.) and then displays it on a webpage. Without a web browser to translate the coding language a website would look totally incoherent to the average person.
The coding language at the onset of the ‘internet age’ was HTML. As a result, the initial viewer that was developed to display Flip Page editions was coded in HTML. Although HTML has been the language of the web for decades it did have limitations. One of the drawbacks of HTML is a lack of interactivity or enhanced design. It exists in two dimensions. Anyone who had the opportunity to view a website throughout the 90’s can attest.
Introduction of the Flash viewer
The lack of interactivity, and faster connectivity, are what provided an opportunity for Adobe’s Flash to succeed where HTML was failing. In the early 2000’s entire websites were built using Flash (YouTube supplied all video content in Flash) because of its ability to produce rich internet applications, interactive websites, games and so on. Flash added the third dimension to web browsing. The launch of the Flash viewer, and eventual Flash 2.0 viewer, offered a more captivating experience for Flip Page edition users.
What had once been lifeless and flat had become lifelike and real. The 3D physics engine provided intense realism as readers navigated from page to page. Flash rendered pages and toolbars could be animated to provide unparalleled eye candy for readers.
Flash media was not without its own idiosyncrasies. Going back to the translation analogy, a web browser could not understand Flash media without the help of an interpreter. The interpreter, in this analogy, is a pre-installed plug-in which allows the browser to display Flash media. A web browser that did not have the interpreter plug-in, or happened to have an outdated or corrupt version, was trouble. Similarly, Flash was built in a point and click environment which created issues for common finger commands like tap and swipe on mobile.
The decline of Flash, as most would agree, could be attributed to the onset of the mobile age. As mobile technologies such as iPhones and iPads started flying off of the shelves one of the largest providers took a hard stance against Flash. Apple, under Steve Jobs direction, did not offer support for Flash based media on their iOS devices. Steve Jobs ‘Thoughts on Flash’ dissertation can be found here - http://www.apple.com/ca/hotnews/thoughts-on-flash/
In a nutshell, that meant that all Flash based content that was accessed via the Safari mobile browser would not render. In its place an error message would be displayed. From a development standpoint Job’s decision caused massive headaches. All websites, applications, games and other interactive Flash media were now outdated on a mobile platform that was growing exponentially.
If Flash cannot be viewed on iOS devices (iPad, iPhone, iPod) that must mean that Flip Page editions using the Flash viewer are not accessible either. Far from the truth but a common misconception none-the-less. When a publisher selects Flash as the default viewer the reader is fed the Flash version on desktop and laptop. When a Flip Page edition reader dives into content on their mobile device our technology ‘shifts on the fly’ behind the scenes. Instead of serving the unsupported Flash viewer the reader is transitioned directly to the HTML5 version.
Introduction of the HTML5 viewer
The response to Job’s decision was immediate. As iProducts were flying off the shelves the development of a mobile viewer began to take shape. The release of the HTML5 viewer included a full screen display ideal for smaller mobile devices. An overlay toolbar offered access to a reader’s tool belt without occupying precious real estate in the viewer. Animated page-flipping navigation was replaced by a more native-feeling page swipe.
With mobile consumption continuing to trend upward, more tools (LiLy, for example) have been added to further engage the reader on-the-go.
There you have it. A comprehensive history of the various viewer options available within the Flip Page Publishing platform as well as the thought process which spurred their development. If you would like additional information related to the user interfaces please contact us!