Tools Aren’t Keeping Up

A bonobo at the San Diego Zoo "fishing" for termites with his stick "tool"

Though other mammals have them, humans and our opposable thumbs have made using tools a key part of our evolutionary acceleration as a species. The higher level the tool, the more of us that can use it. Unfortunately in today’s accelerating technology world, I feel more like that chimp above than a higher level human since the tools are so incredibly immature.

Take the explosion in desktop publishing in the mid-1980’s. A Macintosh, Laserwriter printer, and software like Aldus Pagemaker made the previously manual and film prepress process in to one accessible to millions of us. In fact, my wife and I started our business 25 years ago because these technologies were available to us.

That’s why I’m somewhat taken aback at the acceleration in tablet and ereader acceptance, but realize there are a woefully inadequate number of tools available. I probably should say affordably available and accessible to normal humans vs. skilled programmers or publishers with deep pockets. If you have enough dough or people, you can afford to have your iPad magazines created, served and delivered by companies like Adobe with their Digital Publishing Suite

Adobe’s suite is very complex, expensive and convoluted (just look at the number of features here). You have to pay for the InDesign product, a server-to-tablet-publication model based on number of subscribers, and a monthly fee. Contrast that with the “old” desktop publishing model where you’d buy the software, computer and laser printer (optional, for proofing) and then send your digital files to the printer and get back finished brochures, newsletters, cards and so on. 

So many of my clients, friends and colleagues are dying to create and deliver apps for iOS and Android; publish to the iPad; create and aggregate social media and curate content to add value to their businesses; and streamline processes within their businesses or for their customers with higher level applications. You would probably argue that there are A LOT of tools and we can accomplish and create anything we can envision. I’d argue that you’re right…but it’s really, really hard and expensive to do so.

The old logo for Macromind Director

Case in point: A buddy of mine is a talented artist who used to create interactive multimedia CD-ROMs with Macromind Director in the 90s. He learned content management systems and web development in the 2000s and earns a nice living today building web applications. But when it comes to creating and delivering meaningful value in content curation, social media, content-to-tablet-or-smartphone, there is NO dominant player or model to follow. It’s all coding and he’s not a coder.

He and I have talked at length about all of the tools that are available to create products for iOS and Android-based devices, but both of us agree that they’re either too limited or not flexible enough to create hot, interactive magazines or publications that go beyond what you could deliver in a PDF.

Where’s the WordPress for iOS and Android? As a WordPress devotee and user, I’ve been seeking tools that would extend this platform and there are some (see OnSwipe) but it’s not a fluid solution and doesn’t feel like a real iPad app.

This has been a bit of a ramblin’ post and I apologize for not being more specific. It’s just that I seek out and try DOZENS of apps, tools and approaches every single quarter. I sign up for every beta, bend tools as much as I can without breaking them, but can’t seem to get delivered what I can visualize is needed by my clients or customers. 

Perhaps that’s a failing, but I think it’s also a failing of tools vendors and open source advocates. What are your thoughts?

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1 Comment

  1. PXLated on July 15, 2011 at 5:55 pm

    I think you’re somewhat romancing the early days of desktop publishing – Yes, you could do some limited publishing with a Mac, Pagemaker and a Laserwriter (Graeme & I did a 400 page IC spec book) but for most it was little flyers and newsletters usually done badly. Even years later when professional tools like Quark came along, we couldn’t necessarily do all the same things we did with traditional methods. And, postscript was somewhat buggy. In fact most service bureaus with Linotronics had postscript “programmers” on staff to tweak/debug the files and get them to run. It took years to get the tools up to professional speed & standards. I was early into all this and was invited to speak at Pratt Institute about how to use these tools & their limitations. The tools will come and probably faster than it did in desktop publishing. It seemed like an eternity then too.

    —–
    An aside – The web has been a designers nightmare – In addition to having to code html/css, it was developed by techies with absolutely no clue to the visual arts, typography, and traditional publishing at all – unlike Steve Jobs taking a calligraphy course and understanding/ appreciating the finer points and getting those into desktop publishing. They basically threw out everything, 100s of years of publishing refinements. You still see this today in Google. Many designers/marketers turned to Flash as an alternative. To this day, and even with html5, we’re nowhere near where we should be, still decades behind print.



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