Publishers know that tablets are not going away. They also know that publishing for tablets is no easy task. In this article series, I will address many of these publishing challenges; this article will begin with which operating systems and devices to target.

Challenges of Publishing for Tablets

It is hard to believe that the first iPad went on sale only 15 months ago. Today, virtually every major newspaper and magazine publisher now has a presence on tablets. Some have been very successful and are still investing heavily; others have suffered setbacks and are slowing down a little. All, however, agree that tablets are here to stay, and that a long term publishing strategy needs a strong tablet element.

But publishing for tablets isn’t easy. Once a publisher has decided what content should be accessible from a tablet, there are suddenly a host of new questions which need to be answered:

  • which devices, operating systems and distribution channels should I target?
  • should I be writing native applications, web applications, or use a “create once, publish anywhere” framework?
  • how will my production workflow need to adapt to support these devices, with all the different form factors, aspect ratios and user experience metaphors?
  • should I be producing a single, constantly updating edition like my website, or a daily/weekly edition more like my print product?
  • should I be publishing from my InDesign/Quark print system, or the Content Management System that powers my web and mobile sites?
  • how will I make money from this new channel via subscriptions and/or advertising?
  • how will I be able to track the success of these applications, and will I own my subscriber data?

In this article, I will talk about the tablet landscape. Future articles in this series will address the other challenges listed above. The articles are aimed primarily at those publishing newspapers or magazines, but elements are also very relevant to book publishers, or “non-publishers” creating brochures, portfolios or other magazine-like applications. On to the first challenge -- picking the operating systems and devices to target.

Operating Systems and Devices

As things stand, there are five or six operating systems that may become important in the longer term. The table below summarizes these systems. Click on the image to see a larger screenshot.

  Operating System MarketPlace Hero Tablet Devices
Thumbnail image for ipad.jpg   Apple iOS App Store iPad
iPad 2
Thumbnail image for SamsungGalaxyHoneyComb.jpg Google Android MarketPlace for Android
Amazon Appstore for Android
Samsung Galaxy
Motorola XOOM
Asus Eee Pad
Vizio VTAB (Q3 2011)
Amazon Tablet (Q3 2011)
Thumbnail image for hptouchpad.jpg HP webOS App Catalog HP TouchPad
Thumbnail image for rim-playbook.jpg BlackBerry Tablet OS
(QNX Neutrino)
BlackBerry App World BlackBerry PlayBook
windows-tablet.jpg Windows 8 / Nokia Windows Marketplace Likely released in 2012

So how should a publisher choose where to focus their attention? The chart below highlights the fact that iOS and Android are likely to maintain their dominance for the next three or four years -- publishers are wise to focus on these until something major happens.


The market share of the other systems is extremely low, and it is unclear when any of them will make an impact on the market. The BlackBerry PlayBook feels like it was rushed out of the door, although they may make a comeback in the next few years. Microsoft is still finalizing their strategy and have recently announced a partnership with Nokia. It seems like Windows 8 will be their dominant tablet operating system, although Nokia’s Meego may still have a part to play. WebOS looks quite slick, but still has a long way to go to attract developers and market share. As most publishers will probably be ignoring these devices for now, let’s look a bit deeper at iOS and Android, and what they mean for publishers.

Apple iOS

Apple's iOS is the most closed of all the operating systems, which in one sense makes it the easiest to develop for. The fact that it is controlled means that the OS feels consistent, the general quality of the applications are good, the documentation is good and there are no difficult decisions to make about which devices to target. There are only small differences in the hardware (for example, no camera on the original iPad), and incremental changes in the operating system are mostly backwardly compatible, so an app you write for iOS4 should work just fine on iOS5.

The device generally is smooth and a pleasure to use, making it an ideal target for newspaper and magazines applications. In addition, all content can be designed to perform in the 4:3 aspect ratio iPad screen. Apps are purchased through the Apple App Store, and Apple has made this process as frictionless as possible.