This year IBM announced it has standardized on EPUB, an open standard format for digital publications developed by the International Digital Publishing Forum (IDPF), as its primary packaged portable document format. Moving to EPUB is beneficial for any organization as it increases customer satisfaction and allows mobile users to access and consume documents easily and without degradation of performance. EPUB, which is based on HTML5, is a better fit for mobile devices than the other packaged document format PDF.
By standardizing on EPUB, IBM is delivering a richer user experience and dynamic interactive content to all users, in addition to reinforcing it’s commitment to accessibility and putting IBM MobileFirst. It is IBM’s hope that commercial and government organizations will follow its lead in making EPUB the de facto standard for a broad range of content.
Why EPUB? EPUB enables the packaging and encoding of open web technologies for distribution in a single-file format without performance degradation. It also tailors content for any mobile device and offers greater levels of "out-of-the-box" accessibility. With EPUB, the ease of access and consumption of digital information increases for all mobile users, including people who have speech, hearing or vision challenges.
EPUB documents are also designed to have text wrap on a web page allowing the user to read the document without pinching and squeezing their way though it. Furthermore, bundled book readers on Android and iOS mobile devices have built in accessibility features, such as font enlargement, brightness levels, background color schemes, and VoiceOver support, which can be leveraged when reading an EPUB book.
Below I outline four ways EPUB can improve the mobile experience:
1. Reduces technical gaps in current documentation formats.
If your company has a strategy that prioritizes mobile over desktop offerings then you should be asking: “How mobile-friendly is my organization’s current documentation format?” and “Do my clients have to "pinch and squeeze" and scroll side to side to read documents on their mobile device?” This is the effort needed when viewing PDF documents on a mobile device. On the contrary, the features in the EPUB specification are designed for reflowable content that can be rendered in an optimized way for an end-user’s device. In addition, an EPUB file is a compressed document set and it typically takes less storage space on systems than other formats.
2. Takes advantage of open web technologies.
If, after analyzing the technical gaps in your current documentation format, you decide that EPUB is a better option, then the following information will help you feel better about that decision. EPUB makes use of open web technologies such as HTML5, WAI-ARIA, SVG, and MathML that deliver a richer user experience and more inclusive access to digital math, interactive documentation, complex layouts and charts. The move to open web technology makes it possible to quickly build off existing work in browsers, accessibility test tools, and assistive technology solutions versus re-inventing the wheel for every OS platform. Finally, because it is based on HTML5, EPUB is easier to scan (for data mining) and translate (for supporting globalization).
3. Easily author content with minimal investment.
Like many enterprise companies, IBM uses DITA (Darwin Information Typing Architecture) as the base document format for content management and that gives us a solid foundation to add EPUB output with minimal additional investment. We use the DITA Open Toolkit that is one of many different publishing options for DITA users. Through a third-party plug-in called "DITA for Publishers," the DITA Open Toolkit can produce EPUB output. The latest Adobe InDesign and FrameMaker output types also include support for EPUB, which provide an author the option of producing EPUBs through InDesign for better layout control, or through the DITA Open Toolkit transforms for more consistency and automation.
It’s also important to note there are many EPUB converters on the market, but not all produce accessible EPUB. Ideally, if accessibility were implemented in the source format, then the accessibility implementation would be retained in the converted format. It is the responsibility of the enterprise to test its documentation for accessibility compliance against the W3C Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) and US government Section 508 Amendment to the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Section 508). At IBM, any accessibility issues found in the EPUB are addressed and fixed in the DITA source.
4. Expands accessibility for all users.
For more details on how IBM made the move to EPUB, read the IDPF white paper: Transforming the Mobile Experience - The IBM Move to EPUB to Create Rich, Inclusive Content Across the Enterprise.