Creating apps with Demibooks Composer – a review
Demibooks Composer is an app for the iPad which you can use to create animated books. It’s currently free.
I wanted to create an iPad version of my animated Christmas story which was created in Flash. I was interested to see if Demibooks was a good enough tool to create a real application for the app store.
Demibooks composer works like a desktop application. You can add pages, import images, music and sound effects, and within the application itself, on the iPad, create simple scripts, scale and position assets, and create animations using series of images. I found it quite easy to get into using Demibooks Composer. However, it does have some issues.
First of all, creating content on the iPad takes some getting used to. You will find the screen feels quite small if you are used to working in a desktop environment. As you work with the software, however, you get used to the small size and workflow gets better. Choosing, selecting, moving and positioning images and animations can be hard to do with a degree of exactness. Luckily, there is an undo/redo function that will save you when you mess things up.
A great thing is that you can preview your work directly in the composer application. Composer then simulates what the finished app will look like with only a small icon in the upper right corner to signify it is a preview. The preview has some small problems with playback and stability. This is because Composer is running the entire authoring tool at the same time its running the preview. The finished app doesnt have that so it works smoothly. But working on a first generation iPad I had some crashes and bugs.
The guys at Demibooks tells me these issues will get better in a coming version of the software. But as the end result worked so well, it doesnt really matter.
The animating and scripting tools feel a bit 1.0. But this is because it really is. Version two, which is on the way, has many new features and tools. In this version of Composer, you can’t ease animations, which makes them a bit clunky. You can set the volume of a track lower, but you can’t fade it out. You can create looping backgrounds with advanced scripts, you can’t just set it to loop.
All these limitations aside, Composer is a game changing tool. If you’re looking to create any sort of book with animations there is really no reason why you shouldnt use Demibooks Composer to do it. It has most everything you could need creating an interactive book, including a physics engine, draggable assets, spinners, and 16 channels of audio. And that is only in the first version.
The book you create you can export through dropbox or iTunes as a complete file. This file can be used for backup or shared with someone else who has Composer on their iPad. This means a team of people can work on the same book, which is a great feature.
When your book is done, you send your file to Demibooks using a service they call Printshop. They charge you a sum of money to compile the file into a finished app that you submit to Apple in the usual way using your own Apple Developer account. I used their DIY plan which is 499USD for a book. They generate a preview build which you can test on your iPad so you’ll see exactly what your app will look like and how it will behave. Since preview playback has some performance issues, this is an important feature.
All through the creation process, the staff at Demibooks have been attentive and extremely helpful on their support forums.
All in all, I am very happy with Demibooks Composer. I think this is a great tool that can be used for all sorts of applications, not just animated childrens books. The possibilities are endless. For me as a designer, I have been dreaming of a tool that will let me create content for this platform in the same way as Flash used to do. I never thought it would come in the form of an app that you actually run on your iPad.
It took me about three weeks to put together my Christmas story, and about one week to get it reviewed and approved by Apple. If you are interested, go take a look at it. I hope it will get you into a holiday mood.