What does the iPad 3 mean for Technical Authors?

With the latest version of Apple’s iPad due for delivery to initial customers tomorrow, it’s a good time to look at this tablet from a Technical Author’s perspective. It needs to be considered (a) as a medium for delivering User Assistance and (b) as a tool for creating User Assistance. As a tool for creating content, we can break it down further by looking at it from a hardware and from a software perspective.

In this post, we’ll look at it as a medium for delivering content. In further posts, we’ll look at it as an authoring tool for Technical Authors.

iPad as a tool for delivering content

There a many portable devices for viewing content – laptops, mobile phones for example – so is there anything different that the iPad offers the user?

One key aspect is the affordability of the iPad. At £329 for the iPad 2 and £399 for the iPad 3, it’s at least half the price of an Ultraportable laptop such as the Macbook Air. It’s not yet at a price where the device could be given away to customers, but it does mean more and more users will be buying and using an iPad.

Another is the iPad 3’s ‘retina’ display. With a 2048×1536-pixel resolution at 264 pixels per inch, users are less likely to suffer from eyestrain after long periods of reading, compared to using a laptop or mobile phone.

The User Interface, with its pinch and zoom arguably provides a more intuitive way of using a computer. The YouTube videos of babies and toddlers using it are certainly eye-opening:

Apple has also released iBooks, as a proprietary software platform for viewing textbooks on the iPad:

There was controversy over the initial Terms and Conditions of iBooks, which Apple subsequently modified to state

If you want to charge a fee for a work that includes files in the .ibooks format generated using iBooks Author, you may only sell or distribute such work through Apple, and such distribution will be subject to a separate agreement with Apple. This restriction does not apply to the content of such works when distributed in a form that does not include files in the .ibooks format.

According to Tuaw:

Apple intends to control the sole paid delivery portal for this technology, freely offering the tool to create new .ibooks files, taking a 30% cut of all commercial material developed using this specification. At the same time, they’re the ones who are developing both the authoring tools and the distribution apps on their own nickel.

With the Federal Aviation Authority approving use of the iPad as a pilot’s Electronic Flight Bag, and other regulatory bodies approving its use, there seems little doubt the popularity of tablets, and the iPad in particular, will grow and grow.

At the very least, it provides new opportunities to display and explore diagrams.

If users would benefit from your User Assistance content being more visually engaging (through static images, animations and video), then there’s a good case for creating content for iPad users.


John Tait

The editor can easily produce ePub files from DITA content. ePub files open in Apple’s iBooks application without any messing about. iBooks seems to be preinstalled on the iPad 2.

I’ve found that sending these eBooks to senior managers with iPads really engages them, even more than web pages, and it’s something I am going to build on.

iBooks Author seems a bit creepy – I’m not going near it.

John Tait

The above post mentioned the name of a specific editor. Maybe it was edited out the post (doesn’t make much sense without it) or maybe its wacky angle-bracketed name wasn’t accepted by the blog.

Katie Carver

Please do add the name of said editor minus the brackets. I have a user assistance consulting business in the US and am very interested in learning about all technologies and tools for delivering iPad content. I am also really looking forward to your future blog on the iPad as an authoring tool. That certainly seems like an exciting new possibility with robust, feature-rich apps making their way to market.


I think if you look at the other posts on the iPad, it’s addressed there. If not, ley me know. Hopefully, John will respond. A number of the Help authoring tools now have a publish to EPUB format option – MadCap Flare, Confluence, Help and Manual and RoboHelp spring to mind.

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