Baker and PugPig are open source frameworks for creating app publications from HTML documents. This post examines how they work and makes a comparison of their features.
The Future of Mobile Device Publishing?
Publishing for mobile is a broad area that can encompass formats such as PDF, the web and eReader (ePUB, .mobi) documents. The web allows for custom design and behaviour, but has no inbuilt mechanism for receiving payment for content. eReader docs can be sold through online marketplaces, but the format is best suited to long-form text works and the viewing software (and to a certain extent, the end user) determines how the publication is displayed.
App books combine the best of both worlds in that you have absolute control over the appearance and behaviour of the publication, coupled with the most secure and direct method of selling and distributing your content that is currently available. The snag is that making an app is much harder than creating a web page or eReader doc.
This last point is important, because in order to get an ‘app book’ accepted onto the iOS app store, it must be more than just a static collection of pages. According to Apple’s review guidelines:
“2.12: Apps that are … simply web sites bundled as apps … may be rejected.”
“2.21: … Apps that are simply a book should be submitted to the iBookstore.”
In other words, the app needs to include some sort of additional functionality to justify it being an app as opposed to a web or eReader document. Since the release of iBooks author, including some ‘multimedia’ elements such as video or an image slideshow may not be enough. Social media integration is a safer bet. Server queries, simple games or geolocation features may also be worth considering. All of these can be achieved through HTML5 and related technologies.
Baker was released in November 2010, and is an openly developed project founded by Davide ‘Folletto’ Casali. It is free to use but donations are welcomed. Most examples of publications built using Baker are small, independent titles.
The download gives you a folder containing an Xcode project and associated classes and resources. The HTML pages go in a ‘book’ folder. In addition to the pages, you have to include an ‘index’ file if you want your app to include a index bar navigation (page thumbnails that pop-up on a double-tap) and an HPub manifest file, which is a JSON document that provides details and settings for the publication. The order of pages must be listed manually in the manifest file, and the contents of the index bar, including all the thumbnail images, must be generated/inputted by hand also.
PugPig was released in November 2011, and is a commercial endeavour by Kaldor Ltd, created in response to the needs of their existing clients. The basic version is free, with additional functionality requiring payment. Some recognisable brand titles have been created using PugPig, including The Week, and even a private publication for the UK House of Commons.
The download gives you an installer that adds a project template to Xcode that can be selected when you create a new project. Saving the project generates all the necessary files. The HTML pages go in a ‘Data’ folder, and PugPig will present them in the order they appear in this folder. The index bar thumbnails are also generated automatically, and are scaled appropriately between iPhone/iPod and iPad. There is no manifest file to edit, but some basic settings, such as enabling scrolling for tall pages (not sure why this isn’t a default) can be performed by editing the Objective-C classes.
|Baker||PugPig (Free Version)|
|Platform Support||iOS only||iOS, Android coming soon|
|Device Support||iPhone/iPod touch, iPad||iPhone/iPod touch, iPad|
|Ease of Setup||Intermediate – requires manual editing of HPub manifest file, table of contents and index bar||Easy – create your pages and drop them into a folder|
|Navigation Methods||Swipe page (can disable), tap edge of page (can disable), index bar, hyperlinks||Swipe page, index bar, hyperlinks|
|Vertical Pagination Support
||Yes||No (paid version only)|
|Customisation Options||Good – Various settings in manifest file, complete control over index bar||Some – requires editing of the Objective-C classes|
|Page Caching||Yes, can disable||Yes, can disable|
|Internal Browser for Links||Yes||Yes|
|Documentation||Introductory tutorials, GitHub community||FAQs, ‘getting started’ video, wiki, GitHub community|
|Other Features||‘Laker’ compendium includes predefined templates that contain code for layout grids, embedded slideshows, audio, video and more||Paid plans allow you to connect an app to a web-based CMS for the creation of multi-edition magazines|
Both are very similar. Baker is more straightforward to customise, whereas PugPig is marginally easier to set up. The Laker compendium that works alongside Baker may also save some time building grids or interactive features from scratch, but the code formatting and file structure take a bit of getting used to, and with a bit of tweaking, Laker would probably work with PugPig too. PugPig appears to offer broader support, but Baker’s GitHub community seems to be regularly visited by the core development team.
PugPig’s big draw is the ability to hook an app up with a CMS such as WordPress or even their own hosted visual editor, but this is targeted at higher end (paying) clients and may be out of scope for independents.
Baker and PugPig offer a quick and easy way of producing app books using web standard technologies. As both mature and become more ‘cross platform’, we should see the availability of publications created using these methods increase.