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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:

  1. If you are already a Safari Books Online subscriber, you can sign in with your Safari Books Online credentials and begin using the app.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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:

  1. Immediately return to the last book and page you were reading when you last left the app.
  2. Select any title on the Top Books, Featured Books or New Books panels and begin reading.
  3. Browse for books that you might be interested in reading.
  4. Search for books based on topics or key words.
  5. Review a list of Bookmarks that you created and return directly to bookmarked pages.
  6. 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:

  1. 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.
  2. Bring up the Table of Contents and navigate directly to a listed section of the book.
  3. Add a bookmark.
  4. Add notes and tags to any page of the book.
  5. Search within the book.
  6. Select a Full Screen view of the book, without the header menu.
  7. Zoom in and out of the page by using the typical two-finger pinch and expand motion.
  8. 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

Tags: ipad app, Safari Books Online, safari to go,

70 Responses to “An Update on our iPad App – Safari To Go”

  1. Scott Marrone

    I would like to say Bravo!!!!!

    This was a very insightful and professional way to communicate to your client base. The history of the project is not something and company reveals and offten to my dismay leaves the customer in the dark. The application looks great in this post and now that we know a little about the events that took place, I am sure customers and potential customers will give you some slack.

    In short, a couple more weeks wont kill me to wait for a finished product with less defects. Most companies would have just sent out the buggy product and promised to fix it later.

  2. Thomas

    Thank you for the update. Great way to communicate this info to your customers and we appreciate it. Looking forward to the release of the app.

  3. Ben Williams

    Want want want want want want…. want NOW! This can’t come soon enough. The mobile site plays… OK with iPad, but this looks like the business. Can’t wait to try it.

  4. Rick

    Thanks for coming clean. I think everyone would like a date set it stone, but when that is not feasible, it is nice to know what is going on. The previous communications were very aggravating.

    By the way, this looks great. One question though; will videos be available? On the website neither video type works for the iPad.


    • Safari Books Online

      In a future release, yes. We are currently working on a project to switch all of our videos to a specialized Video Content Distribution Network (CDN) which will allow us to offer our videos on all mobile devices.

  5. A.AlShaikh

    I Have A Question With Regard To The Offline Bookbag.

    If I Have An Unlimited Account At Safari Books, Do I Get To Download Any Book I Want For Later Reading, Or Only The Books I Have Purchased With My Tokens?

    If Not, Then I Suggest The Bookshelf Approach Where Only A Limited Amount Of Not Purchased Books Can Be Downloaded At One Time.

    Thanks, And By The Way The Application Design Is Very Aesthetically Pleasing, Good Job And Keep Up The Good Work.


    • Safari Books Online

      You won’t need to use your tokens for offline reading in the new iPad app. The only limitations that will be enforced are that you can’t have any more than 10 titles in your Bookbag Folder at any one time and you can’t put more than 30 titles in your Bookbag within a given month. For Safari Bookshelf customers, only the titles on your Bookshelf can be placed in the Bookbag folder.

  6. David Frederick

    This is great – thank you for taking the time to provide some details as to what has been going on for those of us waiting for the app. I look forward to Safari To Go’s release!

  7. Safari Books Online

    Question: Will there be support for the video training titles within the app?

    Answer: In a future release, yes. We are currently working on a project to switch all of our videos to a specialized Video Content Distribution Network (CDN) which will allow us to offer our videos on all mobile devices.

  8. A.AlShaikh

    Please Keep Us Posted On When You Submit The Safari To Go App To Apple, If That Is At All Possible!

    Thank You For Your Quick Responses.


  9. Philip

    I’ve never used Safari online before, and have been patiently awaiting the release of this app. Reading technical books on the iPad was my reason for buying one in the first place! In the meantime I’ve been using the real thing.

  10. Chris

    I’m so excited and very eager to use the iPad app. Thanks for providing it.

  11. Daniel

    Well done, it looks like the wait will have been very much worthwhile. I’m excited to see how this increases the usefulness of Safari Books Online.

  12. Peter

    I don’t know why you keep on complaining about Apple taking 8-10 days to approve the application. It took you several months to develop it in the first place – the ipad is out since April – and all the delays are not Apples fault. I found the apple approval process pretty pain-less.

    Also – why should the number of items in the bookbag be limited if I have an unlimited subscription?

    The screenshots look a little bit bland – but might be early to judge.

  13. EE Toulouse

    Great! Fantastic communication (finally :) I cannot wait to start using it!!!!
    I hope it will be available soon.

  14. sayjava

    Concerning reading, I would hope for better readability though, a more flexible typeface/font size and even better line spacing. These is very important for reading long text that is held closely to the eye than a traditional computer screen screen. Taking tips from Wikipedia apps in the appstore, they greatly improved the readability of Wikipedia by just adjusting these variables, same goes with iBooks.

    All in all, cant wait for the app enough, its the reason I have an iPad to begin with.

  15. James

    Thank you very much for the heads up on this project. Looking forward to version 1!! :-) Keep up the good work!

  16. Michael

    Thanks for the great effort you put into the app! A parallel development is a neat idea!

    Please don’t forget about your “indirect” customers which login via third party sites – i.e. IEEE, ACM etc. (or will it be working with the first public release?)


  17. Tom Jauregui

    Question: Will the Ipad app be capable of viewing/ checking out electronic library books? I frequently see titles in the San Jose library catalog that I would love to view on my ipad, by typically avoid reading on the computer due to it being less comfortable.

    • CJ Rayhill

      Our iPad app is specifically designed to work with the titles available in our subscription service. You will not be able to import titles from other sources.

  18. Karl Moad

    I have a question regarding the offline bookbag feature. Will this feature be available to subscribers of the 10 item bookshelf accounts, and what will be the usage rules? I’m attempting to make budget suggestions for my developers’ subscriptions and this info may help justify the expense.

    • CJ Rayhill

      Yes — Bookshelf users will be able to move titles from their Bookshelf to the Offline Bookbag folder for use offline. The only limitation is that the title needs to exist on the user’s 10-slot Bookshelf first.

  19. Suresh R Iyer

    A couple of queries:

    1) Will the Bookbag feature be made available everywhere or only on iPad? Let us say I am talking about accessing Safari Books using my desktop/laptop/Android phone/Android tablet — will I be able to read stuff offline?

    2) Is there any equivalent app for Android users or they have access to only the mobile or full version of the website? In other words, do we have an Android app? If yes, is it as feature rich as the iPad app? If there is no Android app, any reason why it is not required?

    This looks good and it would be great if you can support these features everywhere.

    • CJ Rayhill

      We plan to make the Bookbag feature available to full site users later in the year (for use with HTML5-compatible browsers only). Android users can continue to use our mobile site ( for the time being. One of the reasons we selected Nitobi as a vendor, is their use of the Phonegap framework. This should allow us to re-use components that were built for the iPad app to create a future Android or iPhone app, but that will probably not occur this year.

  20. TchaTcho

    This is what Im talking about! A good information policy. Well done! this will clear the fog… you should did that since the beginning. I dont think the lack of the video is a bad thing … we just want comfort to read the books. It seem to me that the font is too small… could we increase the font size? Thanks

  21. TchaTcho

    You have to login to start the software? so even if you have offline books you have to use a internet connection? is that correct?

    • CJ Rayhill

      You must login to the app (while online) to move books into your Offline Bookbag folder (which downloads and caches them locally on your iPad). After that, if you access the Safari To Go app without an internet connection, it automatically detects that you are not connected and shows you the contents of your Offline Bookbag folder. You can simply select one of the titles from that folder and begin reading from the local cache.

  22. GSnyder

    It’s always hard to tell too much from screenshots, but the app looks terrific. Thanks for the detailed update, and please keep us posted as the app winds its way to release.

  23. Graham

    Many thanks for such a clear insight into the trials and tribulations of bringing this to market. It’s seldom that a company allows such open communication, let alone encourages it so this was a very welcome as well as informative insight.

    As others have said or implied, we may all be itching to get our hands on the iPad app but taking a little more time to polish the corners is something that’s worthwhile in the longer term!

  24. kav

    Please consider let user set the margin (cropping) for each page. this will let user to maximize the page/font size for relevent area of the bookpage. Like in IPAD GoodReader app.

  25. TchaTcho

    Please before the crop thing, remember that the tested consumers did ask for “offline access” because they dont have 3G connection or they are using IPAD Wi-Fi version. So if the app ask for login is the same that dont have offline access. So please ask them to put a button in the home “read from bookbag” without login, or we will not read books away from a wi-fi zone. Dont get me wrong, i like the service… but these app is the most important project for safari and i love to continue to use the service so please pay attention in the details. Thanks

    • CJ Rayhill

      Not to worry, if you are offline, the app detects this and automatically signs you on and displays the contents of your Bookbag folder so that you can directly access your offline books (see screen shot above).

    • Thomas

      Maybe it isn’t obvious, but I am quite certain that the screen shown is what you will see the first time you open the app. You have to log in at first in order to access your library and download books for offline viewing. Once you sign in I am certain that you will stay signed in until you sign out, even after opening and closing the app, just like the web site currently. When you have logged in and then access the app while offline you should have access to your book bag for offline reading.

      • TchaTcho

        i hope so too. :)

        @Safari Books Online: please tell us if the software will require login for offline use. The screenshot dont let this clear. Thanks.

  26. lioncall

    Thank you for investing in this app and taking the time to do it right.

    For me, his app crutual in justifying the service.

  27. Marco

    Will Safari To Go have a backlight control? Most Ebook readers give you a dedicated backlight control that goes much darker than the system-wide control found in the System Preferences.

    Adjustable fonts would be nice too, but with the special formatting of lots of programming books, I can see how that might be a troublesome option.

    • Safari Books Online

      The first version of Safari To Go will not have a backlight control built in. This is a planned feature and we are working to have this available in the near future. Users will be able to change font sizes on the first release, and future releases will have options for font changing.

      • Garth

        iOS 4.2, due for release in November, will have the backlight control in the multitasking popup menu. That is, it will be easily accessible without moving away from the current application.

        I’m not sure what Apple’s official position on this is, but it seems like a bad idea to add an in-app backlight control at this point. It would just duplicate functionality that is (will be) already built into the OS.

      • Garth

        Also, note that the iBooks backlight control does not set a separate backlight level used only for iBooks. It’s just a duplicate of the system backlight control, and adjustments made in iBooks persist even after switching applications.

        I completely agree with Marco that the optimal brightness for close reading is lower than for most other uses. But I suspect that Apple would not approve software that tries to enforce its own independent backlight level. That would cause “flashing” as you switch among applications.

      • Paul Murray

        There are lots of different applications which set their own backlight level, Stanza being one. Is it is a pretty standard request for reading apps, as even at the lowest level, the iPad is still very bright if reading black-on-white at night.

      • Garth

        Thanks, Paul – I wasn’t familiar with Stanza, but I tried it out and I like the way it handles the backlight. It doesn’t save the in-app backlight level, so starting the app never causes a backlight change. On the other hand, it does appear to remember the system setting and restore it when you leave the app.

  28. EE Toulouse

    Hi, ok very Good, Fantastic news, but…..
    When this application is going to be available?
    The app store process is not soooo long isn’t?
    Do you have a date?

  29. E.T.Cook

    I absolutely can not wait for this application. It’s one of the applications I’ve been waiting on for a long time.

  30. L Kirkaldie

    Reading this post stopped me cancelling in frustration at the delay. Well played CJ Rayhill.

  31. Peter

    I can’t wait to get the app for my iPad, which will finally transform it into exactly what I wanted from it when I purchased it originally.

    Particularly the offline viewing i brilliant because I decided not to get the 3G version. Now I can have my bookshelf (or at least the most relevant parts) in my backpack.


  32. Søren


    A bit strange – I managed to download the app “Safari to go” from the app store today for my ipad. I gave it a try this morning – nice ui.

    But now the app is gone again on the app store (a co-worked tried to download).

    Anyone else who managed to download the app? Why is it gone again?

    • Safari Books Online

      Apparently the app that made it into the app store was placed there in error and has been removed. This is not our final approved and fully tested app. The official Safari To Go app should be available soon but isn’t available yet. Sorry for the confusion.”

  33. Rob

    I access Safari Books Online via my work library (State Library of Ohio). Will it be possible to use this app (especially offline mode) through this source?

  34. Rod

    I downloaded the app and while I don’t want to completely dismiss it – because it does fill a void – it’s not a very good initial showing.

    Typing within the app is EXTREMELY sluggish, lagging almost a sec after each keystroke. The navigation of most of the controls just doesn’t seem like a native app. Pagination with arrows? When reading a book, the experience isn’t much better. The book is apparently hosted within some container, and while i can zoom, it’s cropped within the boundaries of the container. Navigating pages of the book just isn’t ideal and the buttons are too small and close together, requiring you to be precise.

    If this was the best, I’d hate to have seen the other. It simply doesn’t feel like an iPhone/iPad app, following none of the Apple development/usability guidelines. 2 stars since I can at least read the books.

  35. Ryan J

    I agree with Rod. It’s sluggish and the button based pagination is a joke. What were you guys thinking? I can’t fathom how you managed to find two development teams capable of delivering a product so pathetic that this was the best of the two.

  36. James

    Looks like the app is pulled again from the App store – at least last I checked a few hrs ago. What does this mean? Pulled because it failed or pulled for another ‘play nicer’ version to come along?

    I actually hardly use it now – when online, it sometimes fails to show ‘my favourites’ folder and sometimes it takes logging on and off a few times before I get to see them (first time it happened I thought ‘crap that is a lot of favourites to go missing’). The offline bag works if you allowed enough time for the books to actually download (took me 30 mins plus for 6-7 books on a 4Mb ADSL line). However reading offline does not allow HTML viewing and the experience is somewhat diluted from reading online. So far the best experience is using the PDFs that I downloaded with the points system from Safari Books on the GoodReader app (take note devs, here is an app to aspire to). iBooks too is good for .pub files…safari to go? It had better go…

  37. Thomson Tan

    Long time without any update? When will it come back again?

  38. Roy Wagner

    I have still been using this app on my iPad since November and, though it had some flaws, it was an outstanding extension of my Safari books subscription. I hope to see it once again become available.

    It is definitely the future of technical book access!

  39. Ajay Gautam

    Hi Guys.
    Looking for the Safari books ipad app.
    Whats going on?

    (Our company subscribes to both Safari and Books24x7. I am dying to show off this app :)
    If its not yet available, please add me as a beta tester. Would be happy to provide my UDID.



  40. dragonblogger

    I am using the Safari Books to Go, I add to my Offline Bookbag, but when my iPad is in “airplane mode” I can’t open Safari Books to Go, it just says I need to connect to wireless network. How can I read my offline books when I can’t be connected to Wi-Fi?

    • Craig Ellis, Manager, Safari Technical Support

      It sounds like your book didn’t fully get cached when you copied it into your Bookbag. Please try it again. If this keeps giving you an issue, please file a case with our support team:


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