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I’ve had the morning to toy around with iAd Producer, now available from Apple if you’re a registered iOS developer. It hits a real sweet spot for me, personally, as I have more than a handful of ad agency clients whose customers are undoubtedly interested in having some of these ads produced. Speaking technically, the app excitingly blends graphic design, user experience planning, web development, and iOS development.

The nice thing about iAd Producer is that there isn’t a lot of code necessary to get started. It’s a drag-and-drop type interface — sort of a downmarket Interface Builder — that generates iAd-compatible JavaScript, HTML, and CSS on the back end. You can view the code if you want to, and it helpfully provides you with comments guiding you how to address and manipulate objects you’ve dragged onto the screen.

iAds behave more-or-less like self-contained mini-sites. At minimum, they must contain:

  • A banner (that the user will tap to bring up the iAd)
  • A loading screen (that may or may not contain a pre-roll video)
  • A content screen

Optionally, iAds can contain:

  • A menu of pages
  • As many sub-pages as you want (all on the same level)

What’s impressive about iAd Producer is how easy it is to assemble an iAd with little or no coding. Most of Apple’s iOS interface toolkit is included, replicated in HTML5 and JavaScript. So, a certain fraction of your iAd’s file size (about 650K) will be the foundation to make the whole thing work, including image assets you probably will never use. I don’t know if you can safely remove these items from your iAd’s bundle, at least until I try submitting an iAd.

Testing iAds is simple enough — you can use either the iPhone Simulator (via a helpful iAd Tester app) or in Safari. It appears that you can test iAds on a mobile handset, but since I don’t have an iPhone or iPod touch cable of running iOS 4.0 or above (sad trombone) I couldn’t get it to work. I would assume iAd Producer can somehow install iAd Tester on a compatible networked handset.

One can also upload iAds to the iAd Test Server. This seems a little mysterious as yet, and I’ve contacted Apple for a little more information about how this works — that is, as a service provider, and not someone buying media.

I mentioned on Twitter that the bundles that iAd Producer creates can be, with little effort, turned into functional mini-sites that behave exactly the same way as the iAd does. After some experimentation, this comes with a sizable caveat: The custom iAd JavaScript and HTML 5 that iAd Producer uses limits the target browsers to only the latest versions of Safari and MobileSafari. Even Chrome won’t render the page.

There’s a growing amount of speculation that a version of this tool could be Jeffrey Zeldman’s mythical WYSIWYG web development app. If that’s the case, Apple’s tool will work well, but for a specific market: Simple Applications. Even if they make the exported code work with most modern browsers, the underlying methodology for creating these sites (mini, mobile or not) is that the tool has shifted the burden of displaying the site’s content to JavaScript, and away from HTML. If good visual markup is designed to gracefully degrade, doing the best it can with what it has, the code generated by iAd Producer behaves like a spoiled two-year old — obstinately displaying a blank page if it doesn’t have its way.

In any case, iAd Producer is a very useful tool that will allow even non-technical designers at ad agencies to produce appealing, complex iAd units with minimal effort. How iAds fit into the traditional agency model of designing, buying, and placing media, however, is a story for another day.

Posted December 21, 2010. Tagged: , ,


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