Hypercard for the iPad

Apple these days look like they’re all about consuming content. The topic even came up on the Aperture forum the other day, with some seeing this as proof that the company no longer cares about the application. When Steve Jobs presents Apple as a “mobile company” it suddenly becomes quite easy to get caught up in that mindset. But one has to remember Jobs is a master showman. This little tidbit allowed him to position the company way above some very targeted competitors.

Because while they’ve managed to become a juggernaut in consumer electronics and media distribution, I still believe their DNA is very much rooted in the creation of content. When Jobs describes his company as being “at the intersection of technology and liberal arts”, I think it goes beyond Apple the so-called gadget maker - it paints a picture of what they offer as a whole. And the empowerment of creators is very much part of that whole.

where’s my toolset?

Which brings me to the main topic of this article: the missing tools. These past few years have seen the rise of Web 2.0, the advance of Javascript libraries (both in power and speed) and now HTML 5. All these new technologies enable the creation of interactive and social content without relying on proprietary plugins - yes, I’m talking about Flash.
I was, in another life, a strong proponent of Flash. Not because I was particularly fond of (at the time) Macromedia, but because I was able as a designer to use Flash and do pretty much what I wanted visually, either in a web page or a standalone app (which I believe contributed to the demise of Director with its cross-platform nightmare). Until the advent of AS3, Flash was very empowering for designers. The WYSIWYG factor was very strong throughout the application - so much so that for years I was able to create immersive applications for extremely high-end clients with a minimal knowledge of the AS2 programming language.

I’ve now grown weary of Flash for several reasons:
- It’s a resource hog.
- It sucks on the Mac.
- It’s proprietary.
- With the advent of AS3, every new version of Flash seems to be less and less geared towards designers (I’m sorry, but I don’t want to code tweening or linking between scenes).

But the biggest reason of all: I see all that’s possible with Javascript and HTML 5. Problem? There are NO CREATIVE TOOLS out there. None. I don’t get it. Where’s Apple here? Shouldn’t they be all over this?

Here’s a pretty simple example: I’ve been looking to replace Flash on my studio site. I’m not using it out of choice but because my Photoshelter account’s embeddable slideshows are Flash-based. I love the simplicity of using Photoshelter to manage slideshows for my site, but I just don’t want Flash anymore. What I want is a photo manager that exports a custom embeddable Javascript slideshow. Can’t find one. The best slideshow manager I know is Slideshow Pro and it exports as - yes you guessed it - Flash. There are tons of beautiful Javascript slideshow solutions but all of them require manual coding. I could use JAlbum with Galleria but this creates a full-blown web page with thumbnails. I don’t want thumbnails and I don’t want to extract code every time I want to change a picture.

It’s frustrating.

the flash conundrum

Right now the hard reality is that if I want to quickly create a custom interactive application, my only choice is Flash. It’s the only environment that allows me to point on an object, assign an action and have it play back. Give me an hour and I can build a completely customized interactive web site without typing a single line of code. But of course, it’ll be a swf file. And it won’t play on an iPhone, iPod Touch or iPad
I would love to create an interactive magazine or photography book for the iPad. Something like the NYT demo but geared towards photography. I have tons of ideas. But the tools to build them are beyond me. I’m right brain. I don’t know C++ from C#. I’m a designer, not a programmer. Even though I’m geeky enough to be able to fiddle with some code, the SDK is way over my head.

touch studio pro. please.

So I keep hoping Apple are working on something. That somewhere deep in Cupertino there’s an iSomething killer app waiting for everything to be in place. That once Big Media and Big Publishing are all nice and comfy the floodgates will open, and the power to create will fall back to the individual. It could even be rolled into iWeb and be totally logical. See, I want the tools to build the kind of interactive site or application that Apple uses for itself. I want to embed a javascript slideshow on a web page by drag and drop. I want a Pages or Keynote document to which I can assign touch actions and have it run as an iPad or iPhone app. As Scott Bourne recently wrote, If iTunes or iBooks were to distribute user generated books or magazines, it could do for self-publishing what Podcasts did for radio-type content.

I want Hypercard for the iPad. I want Touch Studio Pro.

Maybe the time is near. Maybe Apple is preparing to pull out iLife and iWork 2010 with all that functionality built-in. Maybe there is a Touch Studio Pro that will allow me to export to an app, a web page or as iTunes Extras. In my mind it would make total sense. It would put a big nail in Adobe’s coffin with regards to its web stranglehold, as I’m sure many designers would jump on the opportunity.

If they build it, I will come.
C’mon Apple. The liberal arts are waiting.