The debate rages on: are tablets good for creating content, or just consuming it?
The iPad and other touch-enabled tablets are undeniably awesome for browsing the Web, viewing photos and videos, shopping, playing games, reading (for some people), and consuming other digital media. But they are often knocked as clunky when it comes to creating content. Many people don’t feel comfortable writing on a software keyboard, uploading content for a slideshow, or laying out a presentation without a mouse in hand.
A number of new apps aim to change that with simplified content-creation tools built to take advantage of consumers’ growing comfort and dexterity with pinching, tapping, spreading, and swiping.
Flowboard, from a Seattle company known formerly as Treemo Labs, hopes to define a new category CEO Brent Brookler calls “touch publishing.”
“It’s all done with your fingers,” he says of the free iPad app the company is launching today. Flowboard plans to build iPhone and Android versions shortly.
|Publishing Tools for your Tablet or Smartphone|
|iBooks Author||Multimedia e-books||www.apple.com/ibooks-author|
|Kullect||iPhone media collections||www.kullect.com|
|Padlet||Shareable media walls||www.padlet.com|
“There has been a myth—and we’re one of the people trying to debunk the myth—that you can’t create on these devices,” Brookler says.
He describes Flowboard as “a next-generation storytelling, presentation builder, or publishing platform.”
Early users of the tool include an Italian musician who created a Flowboard to show off his collection of bass guitars; Holstee, a clothing and design company that made an interactive brochure; and, of course, Brookler himself, who put together a video and photo scrapbook of a recent family ski trip to Whistler.
Brookler is a mobile and digital content entrepreneur whose efforts include Mobliss and Treemo, from which Flowboard hatched. Originally, Flowboard was a creation tool built into another product that a small team at Treemo built.
The 11-person company bankrolled development of Flowboard with revenue from its existing business building iPhone apps for big brands such as CBS. It also took a bridge investment round from Seattle-area angel investors including Geoff Entress, Rudy Gadre, Jim Judson, and “people that have the last name Brookler,” Brookler says.
Working on an iPad, you start with one of about a dozen templates ranging from scrapbooks to business presentations. Tap on a field in the layout for a photo and a menu of photo sources pops up. You can pick images from the iPad’s camera roll, a Google image search, Facebook, Instagram, DropBox, and other sources—solving one big content-creation challenge of the iPad: getting media files onto the device.
Size and align the photo with the familiar gestures, and pop it into the layout. Tap the text underneath the photo and a keyboard pops up to write your caption.
It’s pretty standard desktop publishing and photo editing-type stuff.
Flowboard also has interactive and multimedia capabilities. You can add internal links to other screens within a Flowboard, videos, and photo galleries that launch into a full-screen slideshow.
The key is the native-to-iPad controls and format.
That’s a non-trivial technical effort, Brookler says. “If I do a tap and hold, it’s different than a tap, and that’s all based on math,” he says.
Flowboards are saved to the cloud—photos and all—each with a unique URL that can be shared and accessed on any connected device, Brookler says. Therein lies the company’s initial business model.
The app is free and people can upload and share 200MB for free. The company is charging $5 a month for up to 1 gigabyte of Flowboards stored in the cloud.
“We’re going to continue to add more premium services” for monthly subscribers, Brookler says.
Flowboards are built to work offline, caching the content in the device’s memory. That’s a capability that travel guru Rick Steves, a Treemo customer, insisted upon.
The company initially designed Steves’ walking tour and audio guide apps to stream content over a wireless connection. But Steves said it has to work offline because travelers to Europe don’t want to pay for data service, Brookler says.
Developers of tablet content creation apps are trying to find the right balance of simplicity for ease of use by amateurs and creative freedom.
Haiku Deck, an iPad app for quickly making clean slide presentations, has an intentionally limited—though growing—set of features meant to force users into “best practices in presentation.”
The initial release of Flowboard may have a little too much flexibility. “One thing that’s challenging about our system, and we’re cognizant of it, is lining things up,” Brookler says. Alignment guides to address this are in the works and should be part of the first update.
Flowboard and Haiku Deck are two of a growing number of apps—several from Seattle-area companies—trying to improve content creation, collection, and presentation in the era of touch-enabled, mobile devices. Others include 9Slides, an interactive slideshow creation tool that launched an iPad app earlier this year; Zapd, for building quick, personal websites on an iPhone; Apple’s own Keynote; the likes of Pinterest, Padlet, Kullect, and Flipboard; and even eBook apps such as iBooks Author, Blurb, and Vook.
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