With the iPad, Apple could become a leading intermediary for the publishing business, as it largely has for the music industry. Magazine and newspaper publishers have been working on iPad editions for months already.

One of the iPhone book companies that has been particularly innovative is Kiwa Media, based in Newton, Auckland.

Luke Tomes, VP Technology of Kiwa Media recently talked to me about the company's QBook and CUT developments.

QBook is an ebook for kids, but development began a year ago with the Apple's iPad firmly in mind. This was based on rumours but also traces of code found in the iPhone SDK hinting at what was to come. (The QBooks look great on iPhone and iPod touch – the big advantage of the iPad is, simply, screen size.)

Kiwa actually started out developing Mac software called VoiceQ about ten years ago, a specialist tool used in the film industry for dubbing films into multiple languages and for ADR – dialogue replacement – work.

This is when you get the actors back to re-voice their dialogue in moving footage, to give the sound designers better quality voice audio to edit with.

With VoiceQ, the script is entered in as a text file, and the words aligned to the original speech waveforms using the software. Then it actually plays the movie and scrolls the words across the bottom of the screen, for the actor to voice to, in sync with the actor on screen.

"We've been using it internally to do the dubbing for a lot of the imported programs on Maori Television. But it's been sold into Hollywood Studios like Fox and Disney – we have customers all over the world. It's Mac only, and it integrates with Pro Tools."

"You can add a new language, so when the dialogue scrolls across it's in Italian or whatever. So then it can be re-voiced in a new language."

VoiceQ (patented) was used, for example, in Tom Cruise's movie Valkyrie, and Luke went over to Europe to help with the dubbing as the movie was being made.

It's Mac-only because the Mac OS contains great localisations – switch the OS to Mandarin and the system terms and dialogue boxes are all in Mandarin – or Cherokee, or Armenian, etcetera.

After VoiceQ, Kiwa launched SingQ, which stretches the words horizontally so you know how long to hold a note.

SingQ led Kiwa to look at iPhone apps and the music world. They realised that digital publishing was about ten years behind the music industry. "We realised there was little beyond making a work into a PDF or a basic ebook. So we started to consider how we could apply some of our intellectual property to synchronised visual text and audio, which is where we specialise, and in multiple languages.

In use, readers run their fingers along the text and each word is voiced aloud in turn. Kids start to associate the look of the words with what they hear. They can 'read' at their own pace and go back as often as they want. "You can touch any word and it says it, and if you touch and hold on a word, it spells it out to you. And that's every word in the book. And that's how we arrived at the QBook as an ebook for kids. "

The little iPhone screen is a natural fit for kids' books. But Kiwa started adding other multiple languages. Currently being developed for a future release is the ability to work with two languages at once. "I'm having great fun with Spanish. I can start in English and then flip it into Spanish. With two languages side-by-side, you can read in English and when you run your finger along the English, the corresponding word is highlighted in Spanish."

"We haven't just made one book of this – we've made a whole system that allows us to migrate content into this platform. And now we're working with Penguin on this, plus Milly Molly and Huia Publishing, both independent New Zealand publishers."

Kiwa takes supplied content and loads it into the CUT tool (Kiwa's 'Content Universal Tool'), which manages all the audio files and mapping, plus the back plate of each page.

Kiwa has been working with CSI academy at Auckland University. The Centre for Software Innovation supplies students as interns. "All of our programmers are people who have gone through CSI and worked here as students, then we've hired them when they finished their degrees in Computer Science."

CSI is not a Mac campus. "They don't really teach Mac programming anywhere [in New Zealand], which seems incredible, but the job options in the main market are limited. That said, I know Mac programmers who start work at $1500 a day. If you're good, it's quite a lucrative business. We specifically ask for programmers with an interest in Apple technology, but where we can't find them, we convert them.

Kiwa is currently looking at taking the system to Windows 7 because it's touch-enabled, and is researching Symbian and Android. All the Kiwa software tools were built with that in mind.

iPad

"So we're actually all ready for iPad. We're testing on the iPad [software] simulator. The day they announced it, we downloaded it. It was relatively painless to get our system running on it. It did introduce some new technologies. One of the things that wasn't available for our previous iPhone development is CoreText, like other Core technologies introduced by Apple."

(That's CoreAudio, CoreVideo, CoreGraphics, CoreData etc, all things that streamlined the programming process, says Luke.)

Kiwa Media has five full-time developers and five full-time production editors doing Photoshop work, audio recording and syncing, and I have two managers constructing the books. And Roger Shakes doing business development, working with publishers and customers. It was a three or four-man band for a while but the last two years has seen a lot of growth.

Mac Planet: Do you think there's a future for adult books for iPad etc?

"Yes I do. Absolutely. The 'epub' format is great for reading novels and stuff like that, but even reading manuals or textbooks on the iPad is going to be brilliant. I definitely think it's going to be big in the educational arena.

"The possibilities for people with disabilities, too – there's lots of other things it can help with. I think the iPad has been designed from the user's point of view backwards, rather than tacking on a user interface on a system designed by a computer engineer. A computer engineer will lay things out a certain way, according to logic, and then an interface is tacked on top. With Apple's iPhone touch interface, users intuitively get it."

Since most computer users these days don't very often need to input, the iPad will be a dream device for many.

Getting content into QBook

"You bring the content to us and we do it for you. And we actually manage the iTunes account for [clients], too. Basically because the companies don't know how to do it. But I imagine that in the future people will want to manage that for themselves. For now we're getting a return on our quite significant investment.

"This system means we can be knocking out ten or 20 books a week ... when we update the QBook framework or the engine, like make an improvement in the interface or add a module, we can just hit the build button again and roll out all those books again as updates.

Once the content arrives at Kiwa in PDF or (preferably), InDesign format, the book's ready in two weeks. Impressive stuff.

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[The full text of this interview is available on
mac.nz.com
]

- Mark Webster