When we decided to create an iPad app for Safari Books Online subscribers back in April, we contracted with two separate development teams. We did this for a couple of different reasons. First, we wanted to see the different approaches the two teams would take from a user experience and design perspective. And second, we wanted to see which team might get to the finish line the fastest.
Both teams submitted a version of the app to us for beta testing in August. We submitted both of these apps to approximately 100 of our volunteer customers. Based on the feedback we received, neither app was a clear winner. Some users liked the design and features in one version, and others liked certain aspects of the second app.
But one thing was abundantly clear. All of our testers wanted to see an offline viewing capability built into the iPad app. So we did a gap analysis of the features most requested by our beta testers and selected one of the vendors to take us to the finish line. The app we selected was developed by Nitobi, a company based in Vancouver and known for its PhoneGap mobile development framework.
Since August, Nitobi has been coding missing features and fixing bugs. In September, we submitted a version of the app to Apple and received approval at the end of September. However, while the app was in the process of being approved by Apple, we continued testing and found some serious bugs and performance issues that we did not feel comfortable releasing to our customers yet.
At this point, we feel that we are reasonably close to resolving the bugs and performance problems we uncovered, but we want to be sure that the updated version we submit to Apple is solid. As most of you know, the approval process with Apple can take up to 8-10 business days, so we will have to contend with that once we submit our updated version.
In the meantime, let me introduce you to just a few of the features that will be available in the Safari Books Online iPad app, known as Safari To Go.
When you first bring up Safari To Go, you will have 4 options presented on the initial screen:
- If you are already a Safari Books Online subscriber, you can sign in with your Safari Books Online credentials and begin using the app.
- If you are not yet a Safari Books Online subscriber, you can sign up for a free trial or subscribe to the service and then begin using the app.
- If you are not yet a Safari Books Online subscriber, you can begin using the app for free and see previews of the books available to subscribers.
- If you don’t know what Safari Books Online is all about, you can watch a video which explains more about our service.
Once you sign up for a free trial or login using your subscriber credentials, you will come to our home screen. From here you can:
- Immediately return to the last book and page you were reading when you last left the app.
- Select any title on the Top Books, Featured Books or New Books panels and begin reading.
- Browse for books that you might be interested in reading.
- Search for books based on topics or key words.
- Review a list of Bookmarks that you created and return directly to bookmarked pages.
- Review a list of your Notes and return directly to the pages on which you made them.
You can organize your titles into existing folders by selecting “Add to My Favorites” off any Book Catalog page.
And the most anticipated feature of Safari To Go is our new Offline Bookbag feature, which allows titles in this new system folder to be downloaded and read locally so that you don’t have to be connected to the internet.
Here is a preview of the reader screen within Safari To Go. From here you can:
- Easily page through the book by tapping on the left or right side of each page or by sliding the progress bar located towards the top of the screen.
- Bring up the Table of Contents and navigate directly to a listed section of the book.
- Add a bookmark.
- Add notes and tags to any page of the book.
- Search within the book.
- Select a Full Screen view of the book, without the header menu.
- Zoom in and out of the page by using the typical two-finger pinch and expand motion.
- Select an html-view of the book and increase or decrease the font size.
There are many more features that we will work to add to Safari To Go after the initial launch. Even though we have a growing list of things we think should be added to the app, our development priorities will be based on your feedback, so don’t hesitate to let us know of your ideas and opinions.
And thanks for your patience. We hope to deliver an iPad app that will provide you with the features and experience that you have come to expect from us… soon!
CJ Rayhill, SVP
Product Management & Technology
Safari Books Online