Oct 062014

Neil Perlin leads the way into mobile apps for documentation — and helps you build your own

Twenty years ago, few technical writers worked with web technologies or created online help. (The first online help conference had twelve attendees.) Today, almost every technical communicator works with both.

But few technical communicators create mobile apps. Yet the app technologies and tools are following the same trajectory that the web and online help traced twenty years ago. The technologies are getting better and the tools easier to use, to the point where we can now create fairly powerful mobile apps with little or no coding. That’s the subject of Building Your First Mobile Documentation App, an all-day Saturday workshop led by Neil Perlin, scheduled for October 18th.

Perlin said,” In this workshop, you’ll get an introduction to the world of “mobile” in general, including a definition of what “mobile” actually is (with a surprising number of options), rationales for going mobile, and various use cases. Including use cases for documentation-focused apps, the kind that technical communicators might create.

We’ll then look at the GUI app development tools that hide Objective C, MIME types, and other coding behind a friendly WYSIWYG interface. We’ll focus down further to look at a specific GUI tool, ViziApps, that we’ll use to create a mobile app in a day.”

By the end of the workshop, you will create a multi-page app that can:

  • Send an email message (pre-addressed or not)
  • Open a URL
  • Open a web-based document and display it in a viewer
  • Open a database and search within that database

“As we create the app, we’ll include text-oriented pages, email links, links to external Web pages, document viewers, and data input and retrieval to and from a database. None of these features are specific to technical communication, but they might be combined in a documentation app to create interactive online help,” Perlin said.

What’s “interactive online help”? Consider an online service manual lets service techs read instructions, take photos of defective parts and send them back to the home office for evaluation, send and receive emails, enter spec data into a database or read spec data from a database, perhaps use “geosensing” to give access to different instructions depending on where the reader is located. Perhaps even be able to buy tools and supplies. And more … All within one app running on a tablet or even a smartphone.

It is hard to tell how apps may be used for technical communication, just as it was hard to tell in the early ‘90s how the web and online help might be used. Yet those two technologies helped create the world of technical communication that we know today. This workshop will help you prepare for the next world of mobile technical communication, and you’ll have a simple but working mobile app to add to your resume. (Although the app will be fully functional, it will not be available in any app stores.)

The workshop costs $140 for an STC Member and $175 for the public, and a continental breakfast and lunch are included. Mathworks, Mathworks, 3 Apple Hill Dr Natick, MA 01760 is hosting. Register (and review details) at http://stcnewengland.org/event-1769657. Space is limited, so don’t delay.

About Neil Perlin

Neil is an internationally known consultant, strategist, trainer, and developer for online content in all forms from help to apps. Neil helps clients design content, select outputs, understand coding, and select and learn authoring tools. To do this, he brings 35 years of experience in tech comm, with 29 online in a wide range of formats and tools. He is Adobe Certified in RoboHelp, MadCap Certified in Flare and Mimic, and Viziapps Certified for the Viziapps Studio mobile app development platform. He is the author of several books on help authoring tools, including “Advanced Features of MadCap Flare 10” (plus 9 and 8), “Essentials of MadCap Mimic 6”, and a book about mobile app development for non-programmers, “Creating Mobile Apps Without Coding.”

Neil was the STC’s lead representative to the World Wide Web Consortium for four years in the 2000s. He writes columns and articles for STC’s Intercom and is a popular speaker at various industry conferences. He is the founder and manager of the Bleeding Edge session at the STC summit. Contact him at nperlin@nperlin.cnc.net.