What would an iPad app showcasing The Beatles be without music? A little incomplete, to say the least — so Wenner Media, publisher of Rolling Stone, hired MEI's Adobe Digital Publishing Suite experts to build a custom audio player that streams samples directly from iTunes.
After the highly anticipated appearance of The Beatles' catalog in iTunes in late 2010, a wealth of audio clips previewing the group's music became available online. The library includes more than 20 albums and hundreds of songs, complete with a means for listeners to easily purchase the complete recordings, if desired.
Tapping into that library was exactly what Wenner Media had in mind when the Rolling Stone publisher was working on the iPad version of its "The Beatles Ultimate Album-by-Album Guide." Because what would an iPad app showcasing The Beatles be without audio?
Taking advantage of existing iTunes clips would help keep down licensing and purchasing costs as well as save disk space on users' iPads. But streaming previews from an app built using the Adobe Digital Publishing Suite had never been done before. Wenner hired the tablet experts at MEI to make it happen.
Wenner's designers envisioned a self-contained audio playlist for each Beatles album. The goal was to stream song samples directly from iTunes but keep the user in the Beatles app. Another feature they requested was the ability to detect and indicate Internet connectivity, which would be essential for streaming. And most importantly, the interface had to be built entirely with Adobe DPS so Wenner's InDesign-savvy artists could easily maintain control over the app's layout.
Working with Wenner's design templates, icons and other graphic assets, MEI developed a custom audio player embedded in the InDesign layouts. This first pass complied with Wenner's original specifications: It allowed the user to play and pause each sample, and it would instantly display alerts if no Internet connection was available. If the user wanted to hear more, touching a separate icon would open the iTunes app for quick purchase and downloading of full songs directly to the device
"After meeting their original spec, we wanted to enhance the experience with more features," said Bruce Frausto, senior sales engineer at MEI. "We responded and decided to expand on it."
As development continued, the player became increasingly sophisticated. MEI's team created innovative, integrated play buttons that "speak" to each other — automatically pausing other tracks if one is already playing when a new song is selected. This helped the player feel more like a comprehensive utility, as opposed to a disconnected collection of audio links
The final piece of the puzzle was enhancing the way the app handled Internet connectivity. In its first iteration, if there was no connection, the app would indicate that samples could not be streamed as soon as a playlist was accessed. MEI improved this by designing a player that waits for the user to select individual audio samples before indicating that no connection is available, and recognizes when the connection has been reestablished
Ultimately, MEI's custom audio player fulfilled all of Wenner's original requirements and more. Fans who have downloaded "The Beatles Ultimate Album-by-Album Guide" can easily sample the band's music by streaming audio directly from iTunes — without leaving the native app environment. This makes for a convenient user experience, allowing users to instantly jump from track to track and get a better feel for the songs they're learning about
And thanks to that extra button that opens the album in the iTunes store for purchase, the integration provides a new revenue stream for Wenner. As part of Apple's Affiliate Program, the publisher gets a percentage of all iTunes sales made through the app.
Most importantly, MEI's Adobe DPS experts strengthened their close relationship with the Wenner staff, working together from start to finish and producing a polished, feature-rich app.
"MEI worked closely with us to make sure the app captured all the great information from our print product and expanded it with immersive and visually appealing tablet features," said Paul Leung, system administrator for Wenner Media. "Their expertise and custom development were integral to the success of this project."
With a little determination, MEI and Wenner pushed the limits of Adobe DPS and proved the software's power beyond its base functionality.