The challenge of publishing content for offline and mobile use

By Paul Caspers posted 04-25-2013 06:16



Making large numbers of manuals or even an entire corporate library available for offline access on mobile devices is not as easy as it sounds. In an age where the number of PCs in the field is going down, the traditional browser feature for making content usable offline is becoming less useful. Mobile devices often don’t have enough space to cache entire libraries of information that were published for use in a browser running on a PC. The caching function also requires the user to know what he needs in advance, and to have already visited the content.

Many businesses turn to the PDF format as the solution to offline publishing. A specific set of a given library can be distributed all at once to workers who need access in the field. Using PDF as the basis for an offline solution, however, has many drawbacks. One is that it requires storing large amounts of data on the mobile device. This is especially inefficient when users only need access to specific pages. Another is that PDF documents are not ‘responsive’, meaning that they don’t support the reflowing of content to fit the screen size of each user’s specific device. Further, when a user is online, updating changes can mean updating large numbers of complete documents. This can make the update process very slow.

Pros and cons of HTML5

HTML5 seems to be the most sensible solution. With one format, users are able to use the same HTML5 on the standard Web site and download what they need onto their mobile devices using the offline caching feature of their mobile browser. CSS technology can then be used to render the information differently depending on the device being used.

But the devil is in the details. HTML5, while powerful, has many of the same drawbacks as older versions of HTML. Most specifically, any one publication can require the download of a large number of HTML files as well as a number of supporting image and CSS files. To make matters more difficult, HTML does not in itself define the reader’s starting point. This is left to the application built around the HTML publication. As a general rule, mobile devices simply do not have the space to download large numbers of such ‘HTML5 content applications’.

Pros and cons of EPUB

The EPUB format, on the other hand, supports the download of a single file. This is especially helpful for users of mobile devices who wish to download and reference content offline without the overhead of a content-specific application. The reader’s starting point is in addition pre-defined and the amount of data to be downloaded has been optimized to be as small as possible. This makes the EPUB format ideal for publications that are pure content, images, and links. Other content—spreadsheets, presentations, and drawings, for example—is unfortunately not supported, making EPUB a sub-optimal solution for publishing richer content for offline users. There is also no provision for releasing custom applications for specific publications.

The comparative strengths of HTML5 and EPUB

The EPUB format provides an optimal way of distributing document-based content to offline users, but isn’t up to publishing other types of content traditionally found in corporate libraries, nor is it capable of providing offline users with important, publication-specific features they may need.

HTML5 addresses the needs of all document types and allows the organization to create custom applications, but is ‘top-heavy’ when it comes to addressing the needs of offline mobile users, and provides no out-of-the-box mechanism for efficiently handling updates or minimizing the amount of data to be distributed to offline users.

Proper technology delivers the advantages of every format

An adequate Enterprise Content Transformation Web Service, efficiently serves any type of corporate content for use in any application and on any device in the format or formats that are most useful for the user and most efficient for the business.  As documents are added or modified in content storage, they are automatically routed to the Hyper.Net Web Service for transformation and deployment. The service then transforms the document into every required format: Flat HTML5, Rich HTML Hypertext, PDF, EPUB, and even Flash. The resulting ‘publications’ are then deployed to the location of your choice: Web servers, databases, file systems, collaboration platforms, social media networks, and even email.

New services overcome offline publishing limitations

Even with the multi-format publishing power described above, businesses still face the challenge of efficiently delivering content authored in various document types to mobile users who may need to work offline. The publishing formats themselves, HTML5, EPUB, PDF, and Flash—are not enough.

New Mobility Services will soon respond to this need by putting corporate content in the hands of every mobile user in HTML5 format, optimized for display on every mobile device. Content is published for both online access within the business’s HTTP-based solutions, and also for offline access on tablets. The new services mobility technology includes:

  • Support for publishing all document types of content (documents as flat HTML5 renditions, documents as structured, HTML5 hypertext publications, spreadsheets, presentations, drawings, images, etc.)
  • The option to include an embedded custom HTML5 application with each publication, allowing publications to be self-launching and provide users with publication-specific features and library-specific searching
  • Full online and offline access to content and applications using standard browsers
  • Single-file delivery to mobile users via email, via ‘on demand’ download, and via automatic download to an offline user’s library while working online
  • The option to minimize and optimize the HTML5 for transfer to and storage on mobile devices with limited storage capacity, thus providing an efficient HTML5-based alternative to EPUB
  • Automatic update of changed publications when users are connected

Beyond offline access, the business can simultaneously use this technology to:

  • Ensure offline access to content across the organization in case of server or network outage
  • Publish and deploy content in the required formats into any desired system or application
  • Transparently automate backup and archiving processes (including PDF/A)


#offlinecontent #mobility #mobilecontent