Remember Quark? Not so long ago, when InDesign was just a rumor, it would have been unthinkable for a publisher to design and create a print magazine without QuarkXPress. Those who clung to PageMaker were scorned as being hopelessly behind the times. Even some at Adobe were privately worried that Quark’s hegemony could not be challenged.

Fast forward to the print/web/mobile/tablet/whatever era. InDesign rules in many publishers’ minds and budgets. Quark—both the company and its products—are disregarded, even disdained. “That’s just the way it is; some things will never change,” as the song goes.

Nothing is permanent, least of all in publishing technology. On Tuesday, Quark announced the acquisition of Mobile IQ, the UK-based developer responsible for PressRun. The latter is an app-creation environment very similar to Adobe DPS, WoodWing and Mag+, giving page designers the ability to add rich media and publish to the App Store or Google Play. (In fact, PressRun uses InDesign as one of its starting points. XML-based Content Management Systems are another. The most awkward moment of my interview with a Quark spokesperson followed a question on whether QuarkXPress and its App Studio feature would be part of the PressRun workflow. Quark has not announced any such plans, but did not rule it out.)

Where the story gets interesting involves the company’s attitude towards dedicated apps versus browser-based (but still app-like) publications. Mobile IQ has plenty of experience building custom apps—notably the BBC News app for iPhone. Both its custom and PressRun-based apps use a robust HTML5 presentation layer, and officials from both companies expressed the view that tablet publications will break out of the constraints of proprietary reader apps in the fairly near future.

Others share this view, of course. Many publishers would like to break free from Apple’s constraints, and still more are not convinced that the print page metaphor is the best model for an engaging mobile/tablet app. With that in mind, Quark is about to beta test a mobile publication—based in HTML5—that is purportedly more flexible than the page-like apps we’ve come to expect.

For now, consumer magazines may still want to stick with the more design-intensive world of InDesign page layout—in which Quark is now, perhaps ironically, a player. For b-to-b, however—an area where Quark has increased its focus—the situation is not as clear-cut. Mobile IQ has a strong play with STM and other structured publications, where managed content is a strong component. Business publishers may want to broaden their search for tablet publishing platforms that integrate well with a CMS. Neither Quark nor Adobe have an absolute lock in that respect.

Who knows? Publishing technology seems to follow another song lyric, “big wheels keep on turnin’.”


 Former Seybold editor John Parsons is an independent publishing analyst, based in Seattle.