How to migrate apps from AEM Mobile to native iOS

by: | Aug 5, 2020

Adobe recently announced it’s ending support for Adobe Experience Manager (AEM) Mobile — and putting any business relying on the service on notice. By April 2021, apps using AEM Mobile for app content management must migrate to another solution.

Historically, AEM Mobile helped companies easily publish content created in the Adobe suite of publishing tools to mobile apps — providing content creation, content management, and cloud hosting in one integrated package. AEM Mobile was also convenient for businesses to create sales catalog and sales enablement apps.

And that’s where the story of one of our recent projects begins.

Migrating an iPad app from AEM Mobile to native iOS

Our client, a global provider of warehouse and intralogistics products, built an enormous catalog of marketing collateral for its sales team to use in customer meetings and tradeshows. Their marketing team created many of the assets with Adobe InDesign and then published those assets to an iPad app through AEM Mobile.

With AEM Mobile going away, they wanted to migrate to a new CMS and native app and had two key requirements:

  • To preserve their company’s vast investment in its existing content library and maintain their creative production process. It has gigabytes of marketing collateral created in InDesign, updated on a frequent basis.
  • Given that more sales meetings than ever are taking place remotely, our client’s salesforce was clamoring for a Windows version of the app that could easily be screen-shared through video applications like Zoom.

So, here are step-by-step details of how we migrated the app from AEM Mobile to native iOS and Windows:

Step 1: Export InDesign files into ePub format

The first thing we did was convert all the InDesign files into a format recognized outside of Adobe’s suite of tools. AEM Mobile apps relied on the proprietary Article file format, but we wanted something that was open and more universal. The leading standard used in digital book publishing is ePub — and having worked on other e-reader apps in the past, we’re very familiar with it.

Fortunately, the process of converting the files to ePub is straightforward. We just opened each file and used InDesign’s Export feature to save as an ePub. We had to correct a few format glitches on some files, but for most, it was as simple as doing a “Save As.” And this allowed our client’s design team to continue using the same workflow they were familiar with, since they were already exporting as Articles for AEM.

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Step 2: Find a new CMS back-end to replace AEM Mobile

Previously our client would take the Articles they exported from InDesign and upload them through the AEM Mobile service. Since the service is shutting down, we needed a new CMS back-end to replace AEM Mobile.

We chose Contentful. It’s a simple headless CMS that allows you to store content of any type (including ePub files) and access it through mobile-friendly APIs. We uploaded all the ePub files to it and showed our client’s team members how they can do this going forward. Again, this process was very similar to their existing production workflow.

Step 3: Design New Native App Interface and Features

Then came the fun part — designing the new app user interface and features. AEM made it super-simple to create a basic, functional app. Because we were doing an all-new native app, we had the flexibility to expand the user experience.

First on our list, and the number one request from the client’s sales team, was to improve offline support. We designed and built features to automatically download the latest content and make it available even when the app was offline. This is especially important for field sales team members who go out to meet clients where the network conditions are unreliable or non-existent.

We also improved the app’s content discovery. Previously, a user might have to scroll through a long list of documents to find the one they were looking for. We added new ways to sort and search for content, and bookmark frequently accessed content as a favorite. And we built-in support for new file types — beyond just ePub — so that our client could include videos, slides, and more as they add new material in the future.

Finally, because we had complete control over the app user interface, we added custom branding elements so that it truly felt like our client’s app — and not a generic-looking (and boring) file repository.

Step 4: Develop cross-platform apps and integrate new services

Our development team started with an important technology decision: using Xamarin. Our Xamarin developers have been building cross-platform apps for years. And using Xamarin on this project made complete sense: We could code once in C# and share most of that code between the iPad/iOS app and the Windows app.

In addition to implementing the app features, we built two key integrations with our client’s systems:

  • Cloud CMS: An efficient content synchronization model integrated with the Contentful content repository.
  • Authentication: A link to the company’s enterprise authentication service, so that only employees that are signed in can access the content.

Step 5: Test, test, test

We do a lot of test automation (using TDD and BDD) during development. But given that much of the content was re-configured as ePubs, it was especially important for us to complete thorough on-device testing prior to launching the app. We identified a few issues with how the content appeared — and worked with the client’s design team to make changes to the files.

Once we were confident the app was performing as expected, we were ready to publish it.

Step 6: Publish to the app stores

We published the app as an update to the App Store. For most existing users, the new app downloaded automatically to their iPad (depending upon their user settings). And new members of the sales team can easily find it by searching for the company name in the App Store.

For the Windows app, our client’s internal team distributed it to members of the sales team through the Microsoft Store.

Step 7: Maintain and optimize app throughout lifecycle

Of course, anyone who works with apps and software knows that publishing an app is just the beginning. The sales team is now a lot more engaged with the new app — and have offered great feedback that we’ve turned into a roadmap. So in addition to ongoing maintenance, we’re already working on great new features.

This is also a good time to revisit our client’s original business goals for the app to make sure we hit the mark.

  • We added a Windows app
  • We improved the overall experience and functionality of the iPad app
  • And most importantly, we were able to rebuild the app infrastructure and migrate from AEM Mobile in a way that was seamless for the users and preserved the investment the marketing team made in all their content

The sales and marketing teams are generating new content they can easily push to the app — so that sales team can do what they do best: Sell! $$$


Need help migrating your AEM Mobile app?

If you’re using AEM Mobile, now is the time to migrate your app. Contact us and we’ll be happy to offer advice on the best solution for your business needs — no strings attached.


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