The Fixed Layout EPUB Missing Piece: Reliable Readers for Windows and Android

  • The missing piece to fixed layout epub

Seems like just yesterday I was super excited about the future of Fixed Layout EPUB. Looking back, though, it was more than three years ago, so in that sense, the future is now.

Truth be told, I’m still excited about it—the interactive features and the user experience is terrific—but when I wrote my original article in 2014, I expected things to get better over time and unfortunately, they haven’t. In fact, in one very important way, they’ve gotten worse.

What’s got me down?

If you know anything about EPUB (and if you’re still reading I’ll go out on a limb and assume you do), you know that the quality of the user experience, especially when it comes to fixed layout, is highly dependent upon the reader application. Back in 2014 when Adobe first added interactive Fixed Layout capabilities to InDesign, my go-to EPUB reader on Windows was Readium and on Mac and iOS, iBooks was the best choice. Android to the best of my knowledge has never been overly friendly for Fixed Layout EPUB. The bonus for iBooks was it was pre-installed on every Mac, iPad and iPhone.

iBooks on iOS and MacOS are still terrific. They render everything beautifully and honor all of the animations that are supported in InDesign. Readium on the other hand has gone straight to hell. It doesn’t work at all, anymore. Why? Ask the developers because I don’t know. But, that really shouldn’t matter. You see, Adobe has its own reader for EPUBs – Adobe Digital Editions (ADE). It’s available on all platforms. Since Adobe is creating the output and developing the reader, everything should be fine, right? Well, yeah…it should be.

Bad news; it’s not.

To be perfectly blunt, Fixed Layout EPUB pretty much sucks on Windows and Android—not because of something inherently wrong with the format (though, there are purists that will tell you it’s an abomination) but because there’s no reliable reader application for it. While I don’t normally put a tremendous amount of weight into user reviews, it’s really hard to ignore the number of one-star Google Play reviews for ADE. On Windows, it’s not much better.  Let’s take a quick look at what I’m referring to.

The screenshot on the left is from iBooks on iOS; MacOS is identical. The one on the right is from Adobe Digital Editions on Windows.

To call that kind of output unacceptable is an understatement. This creates a huge hole in the Windows and Android markets.

Developers, including, and especially, Adobe have had years to get this right and we’re still stuck with sub-standard EPUB readers on Windows and Android. Microsoft touted Edge as not only a great browser (it’s not, but that’s a story for a different day) but an EPUB reader as well. While it’s pretty good for reflowable EPUB, for fixed layout it’s so bad that my test files didn’t render anything worthy of a screenshot. I even tweeted about it a while back and got a response which has left me at least a bit hopeful that somebody is listening.

If you’re interested, click on that tweet to read the entire conversation. Of course, listening and acting are two different things and while I’d love to see Microsoft get this right (because a pre-installed reader would be huge), my real disappointment lies with Adobe Digital Editions. It’s so close to being where it needs to be. It handles interactivity fine, but text rendering is hit or miss at best. Some text is fine, other text looks like that screenshot I posted above. (And yes, I’m using OpenType fonts) I understand that it takes time to develop an application like this, but we’ve gone way past version one and I haven’t seen much in the way of improvement over the last couple of years.

So, what does the future hold?

I’d love to tell you that there’s light at the end of the tunnel, but I can’t. I just know that my enthusiasm for widespread acceptance of this format is waning. Until there’s a reliable way to view these things on all platforms (think PDF), it will remain a niche format.

Before I wrap up, I don’t want anyone thinking that is a complete condemnation of Fixed Layout EPUB. The potential is still there. If you can control the output devices, it’s fabulous. I’ve done some work on sales materials and trade show kiosks where iPads were the only hardware used and everyone was happy with the results using iBooks. It’s capable of things that previously could only be done with DPS-type apps and the cost is negligible.

Finally, if anyone does know of a reliable Windows and/or Android reader for Fixed Layout EPUB, please let me know. I’ll be happy to spread the word.

By | 2018-03-22T10:43:25+00:00 March 22nd, 2018|Adobe, Digital Publishing, EPUB, InDesign, Rants|6 Comments

6 Comments

  1. studea March 22, 2018 at 11:27 am - Reply

    It’s indeed unbelievable, the long-standing negligence of Adobe towards their own ADE reader.
    In addition, the sheer ignorance of Microsoft towards their support of ePub FXL is just as baffling.

    I’ve also given up hope, and decided to tout the ePub FXL strictly as a “reasonably useful format” for exclusive viewing on iPads. On the other hand, many requests for such content involve online resources (like YouTube videos, HTML5 animations, etc.) which are not allowed in an ePub. That leaves us with InDesign’s Publish Online platform, which lacks an immersive experience on tablets.

    Missing pieces, everywhere…

    • Bob
      Bob March 22, 2018 at 12:15 pm - Reply

      It’s insane. They don’t even need to create a reader for Mac or iOS. Apple’s taken of that. That leaves Android and Windows. I’d still love to know what happened to Readium.

  2. Frans van der Geest March 22, 2018 at 12:28 pm - Reply

    Yes, what happened to Readium? It worked perfectly, bu now it is just static, like no Java script runs at all. I recommended it for Windows users as the most reliable viewer, but it is doing nothing at all anymore. Is it the plug-in or is it Chrome…? Sad… 🙁

    • Bob
      Bob March 22, 2018 at 12:36 pm - Reply

      I wish I knew. It was a fabulous FXL EPUB reader. Every bit as good on Windows as iBooks is on Mac or iOS.

  3. Ken Jones March 25, 2018 at 8:20 am - Reply

    Hi Bob and others. I agree that Adobe Digital Editions has always been disappointing, and remains so, but I must disagree about Readium! As I understand it, they have been forced to stop developing the Readium Chrome plug-in due to some Google changes / restrictions but the Readium project is still alive and well and is still moving forward in interesting ways.

    The Readium cloud reader still works well, is still being actively developed by EDRLab’s Readium Foundation, and is not limited to Chrome. Check out this example of Readium being used to display a customer’s interactive ebook using any modern browser https://www.galdosgift.com/book-sample?mp=Client3333/Job9781999857608/016

    But it doesn’t stop there, EDRLab are taking on the big topics such as DRM and creating installed cross platform and mobile device reader apps, including Windows and Android. I remain hopeful that they are set to give us a free and vendor neutral well-featured ebook reader available to every desktop and device later this year. The promise is that they will support fixed layout too. Take a look at their parent organisation (EDRLab) website for news on Readium 2 https://www.edrlab.org/readium/readium-2/ and to get on the beta program.

    I wrote more about this and my opinions on fixed layout here http://epubsecrets.com/in-defence-of-fixed-layout-ebooks.php

    I’m due to be talking about this subject in a twitter #eprdctn hour on May 23rd and also at CreativePro Week too in this session https://creativeproweek.com/session/interactive-illustrated-ebooks/ on June 7th but just let me know directly if you’d like more info or help.

    Thanks
    Ken

    Ken Jones
    Circular Software
    @CircularKen
    http://www.circularsoftware.com

    • Bob
      Bob March 25, 2018 at 8:25 am - Reply

      Thanks for popping in, Ken! It’s good to know there’s some real hope for this.

What do you think?