Writing for Europe

This hit me the other day, as I was delivering a session on digital publishing to a very nice group of designers. They currently create iPad and Android tablet versions of some of their publications, and while they’d prefer to focus on iPad, someone will inevitably ask about Android support. In some ways, it’s a fair question, and in other ways, it’s completely unfair.

If you were writing a document in English, then you might have to make a few small changes to support the world’s different kinds of English speakers, in the UK, the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, etc. Turns out that maps pretty well to the iOS ecosystem, with the different, yet similar users on iPad 1/2/3/4/mini running iOS 4/5/6/7. There are differences, but they’re pretty minor — especially as the vast majority of users are on the latest OS. All these devices have the same aspect ratio, and there are only two resolutions in play across all of them.

Yet, when someone asks about developing “the Android version”, it’s like they’ve just asked you to write a document “for Europe”, in French/German/Italian/Dutch/Flemish/Romansch/Ukranian/Russian/Bulgarian/etc. There is no one “Android” version. Instead, there are a multitude of different devices, with different resolutions, different aspect ratios, running different versions of the operating system. Even if you can produce an app that runs on all or most of them, you’ve still got to test.

The only two ways forward that make sense:

  • If you want to fix the aspect ratio for a more print-like design with limited interactivity, use PDF.
  • If you want a more free-form layout to take best advantage of each device, use HTML.

At the end of the day, if you need to support Android, build a good website. Desktop and mobile users can use it, and it can form the core of an app for any devices that aren’t better served with another solution like Apple’s iBooks Author or Adobe’s Digital Publishing Suite.