Since there are so many smartphone application developers now, the prices for a native conference application has gone down dramatically. You can get both an iOS and an Android version for about 1 million yen. However, the features that these applications provide are little more than eBooks. Moreover, preparing the data to be imported into these applications is left to the conference staff; the application developer will not do this.
My prediction is that the native conference applications will be replaced by eBooks in the near future. What is holding us back is the lack of pre-installed ePub readers, especially on the Android platform.
Below I will discuss this in more detail.
Search on native conference applications is very simple and comparable to ePub readers
The search capability on native conference applications is very limited. In fact, native applications (including those for PCs) often have very crude searching. Instead of indexing the text, these applications commonly do a simple scan through all the documents for each query. This makes searching slow and they usually lack effective scoring algorithms. As a result, searching inside native conference applications is not significantly better than similar capabilities on ePub readers. This partially due to the lack of good search libraries, but the largest limitation is the CPU power, memory and battery life on mobile devices. Without abundant resources, indexing simply is not realistic.
In contrast, searching on the server is very sophisticated, and there are amazingly powerful solutions that are available free of charge. You can use complex scoring algorithms so the most *relevant* results are shown on top. You can show *facets*. Speed is very fast because servers typically have enough RAM to store the whole index in memory.
ePub has powerful table-of-content features and links
ePub provides a flexible and easily accessible table-of-contents feature and also the capability to connect pages through links. Therefore dividing thousands of presentations into sessions, and grouping those sessions together by date and time is relatively straightforward. Furthermore, clicking on links provides makes it easy to navigate through an ePub.
Although the UI may be less appealing, it is possible to provide the same navigation as a native conference application.
Limitations of ePub
For MBSJ2012, we tested and created a prototype ePub and viewed it in iBooks on the iPad and iPhone. We observed the following limitations;
- Search was extremely slow (probably not an issue unless huge conference)
- Table-of-contents were generally OK
Other limitations were that there is no ePub reader installed by default on Android devices, and that the same can be said for PCs.
Although we think that ePubs and eBooks are very suited for relatively small conferences, the problem is support on Android. If Google starts bundling ePub readers on Android, then ePub will be a very attractive solution. If there is a good free application for Android, that might be sufficient.