Pulling Help Authoring Content into Native Apps

LavaCon 2012 Session Summary-eBooks, New Media & Mobile Devices Track

Presenter: Neil Perlin,  Hyper/Word Services

As a consultant in the world of help authoring and documentation for more than 20 years, Neil Perlin knows a thing or two about help authoring.  This session at LavaCon 2012 focused on bringing content produced via help authoring into native apps, with eye towards understand the distinction between web apps and native apps.

Neil started with an overview of mobile, terminology, and GUI authoring tools, then discussed the difference between a web app and a native app. Native apps reside on a mobile device, are usually written in the device’s native language, and use the device’s native resources – camera, accelerometer, GPS, etc. A web app is run in a browser on any device from a smartphone to a PC.

To create help content in native apps, he highly recommends that help authors understand the code, but use GUI tools to keep from breaking things. The goal as a help author should be t0 be able to fix things if necessary, but not to set the expectation that content is hard coded.

To accomplish native app help authoring, Neil emphasized first defining how the mobile effort solves a business problem/purpose. He explained how design differences can impact data conversion in help versus mobile. You need to watch for text heaviness, control types and locations (such as where major buttons go in app), and screen orientation (landscape versus portrait).

When authors ask “How do you convert online help to mobile?” Neil advises that they consider what must be done to the content first – is the help content the app, or is it feeding into the app (essentially as a single sourcing output). Authors will have to do a general cleanup, but the most important task here is to evaluate how well the help authoring tool works with the application development tool. Once cleaned up, authors should flag all content meant for the app using conditions, and get the applicable content into the app database.

Neil uses ViziApps Studio for his examples on how to import content into an app, but essentially the conversion process is as follows:

  1. Create a template that mirrors the content database
  2. Create topics using the template
  3. Output to database format using Microsoft Office applications
  4. Paste the information into a spreadsheet.

This general outline of the steps may vary based on which tool is used to create the app.

Potential trouble spots when importing an app include items that are too wide or too big, too much text, and items that use different controls in mobile versus in a help authoring tool (such as images, tables, and links). Takeaway advice: You must test AND plan before you start.

 

Rachel Houghton

Rachel has been taking photos as a serious amateur since she got her first camera at the age of 16 - a Canon AE-1 Program. She has a Nikon D100, a Nikon D7000, and is anxiously awaiting the new (as yet unannounced) Nikon D400. She's a technical writer, specializing in software documentation and online help, with more than 14 years of technical communication experience. She is a former Secretary for the Society for Technical Communication (STC), past program chair of the STC Technical Communication Summit, and is actively involved in the STC Willamette Valley community and reviews books for the STC journal, Technical Communication. She enjoys photography and Photoshop. Find Rachel on Twitter @rjhoughton or view her photos on Flickr at http://www.flickr.com/photos/rhoughton.

Read more articles from Rachel Houghton

Connect with her on Twitter