Posted on by & filed under Product Updates & Tips.

Given feedback we have received since our initial launch of an iPad app for Safari Books Online, we obviously didn’t completely hit the mark with our initial version of Safari To Go. Instead of working on additional features in our next release, we recognize that we need to correct a number of issues that customers have brought to our attention in the first week of the app’s release, and you have our commitment to do so. We are determined to make this a better app for Safari Books Online subscribers.

As I posted about earlier, we made a decision to program the app using the PhoneGap framework for a strategic reason. While the iPad is arguably the first successful large-screen mobile device/tablet, we also recognize there will be many more to come and we need to use a technical approach that allows us to support as many of these as possible. This is, indeed, a complex issue for many software vendors at the moment, given the wide variety of mobile devices and platforms gaining market share. Devoting development resources to create and update/maintain native versions of our Safari To Go app specific for each device is probably not realistic. The alternative would be to limit our list of targeted devices to a small set of devices/platforms and write and maintain native apps only for those.

A couple of suggestions we have to resolve some of the problem reports we reviewed after the first week:

  • For those customers who downloaded a previous version of Safari To Go, we recommend that you completely delete the previous version of the app before downloading the 1.0.3 version from the Apple app store. Most users who simply updated from a previous version of the app had problems with icons not appearing, etc.
  • For customers with Bookshelf subscriptions, if you wish to move books into your Bookbag for offline reading, do not use the drag-and-drop method for moving books. Go to the catalog page for the title that you wish to move and select the “Add to My Favorites” button. Then select the Bookbag folder as the destination folder. Be sure to delete the book from your Bookbag before you try it again (so it will restart the download process).
  • Many customers have reported that books that seem to have downloaded into the Bookbag folder do not appear once they go offline. There are 3 steps to the download process (prepare book for download, download and then processing the book on the local iPad). We need to add an additional notification step for the last process, as it does not currently message the user that there is a post-processing that takes place after the download. If you exit the app or turn off your internet connectivity prior to the post-processing taking place, the title will appear to be in your Bookbag folder (or might appear as a question mark) but will not be accessible. If this happens, delete the book from your Bookbag folder and add it again, this time giving it ample time to both download the book and finish the post-processing. Your book should then be available for offline reading.
  • For customers who are running iOS 4.2 (beta) on their iPads, we suggest that you delete and reinstall the app if you previously attempted to add books to your Bookbag folder and then exited the app before the download was complete. In iOS4, this causes an issue where the app does not recover gracefully from the interrupted download and post-processing (auto-resume of the download process remains stuck). Then, simply follow the instructions in the paragraph above and you should be able to use the books in your Bookbag folder in the offline mode.

We are working with Nitobi to correct many of the reported issues as quickly as we can and will keep you updated on our progress.

As always, we appreciate you letting us know how we can make Safari Books Online a better experience.

CJ Rayhill, SVP
Product Management & Technology
Safari Books Online

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

59 Responses to “Safari To Go Update – Monday, November 8, 2010”

  1. Philip

    I think the lesson learned here is to have a wider beta-test, allowing interested users to get an early look at the software. The beta program you actually ran was much too narrow and restricted.

    • Matt

      Yea, it seems that way. I’m also guessing they’ve been too nice to let people in on the beta who may not have had the adequate feel for how iPad products should be. But, what do I know?

      I’m hoping that PhoneGap will prove itself useful in the long run, and that the most obvious shortcomings are fixed. I’m very happy with the design, but the back-end kind of ruins it. Still I’m pretty confident that they’ll fix it sometime soon :-)

    • Bakafish

      It’s actually not that easy to do Beta testing on IOS as you need to get the testers device UUID’s etc. The problems they came across should have been picked up by a handful of ‘real’ QA testers. It wasn’t an issue of not enough people IMHO, but the quality of the people they used. I’m going to guess they left most of the QA up to the developer, and given the quality of the final product I’m not convinced there is much emphasis on QA at that shop…

  2. A. Franco

    I’m sorry to say this, but I fear your app is beyond fixing. There are so many basic problems with it!! I don’t know how someone could release this into the wild to begin with. Didn’t you encounter all these problems in your testing?

    I also think your reasons for using PhoneGap are not valid. How many ‘tablet’ platforms are you expecting to get a foothold in the market in the near future in addition to iOS? The only likely one, Android, is not so likely when you consider that proper tablet support is only rumored to arrive with version 3.0. Why screw up the iOS version because of a ‘rumored’ future platform? But even if you count Android as a sure thing for tablets, what other OSes are you expecting to take a significant market share in the next year or so? Or are you saying that supporting a iOS version and an Android version is too much for your dev team? I think your decision to put cross platform development ahead of usability when only one platform exists at the moment is absurd to say the least.

    • A. Franco

      I forgot to add: I wasted several hours – yes, several hours – trying to put books into the bookbag following the method you have outlined above, and it didn’t work. Why aren’t you honest and admit that the thing just does not work so that other users don’t waste more of their time with it?

  3. PatrickI

    Here’s just one of the many examples of the problems with using something like PhoneGap: look at a book’s Table of Contents.

    First, load a book. Ignore for now that the pageview is blurry even when you try to zoom into the content.

    Say, for example you want to view the Table of Contents of the book to get a good overview, or to jump to a particular topic of interest. So you press the Table of Contents button near the upper left.

    Ignore for now that the table of contents is extends outside of the box that it is drawn in (in a device that has a fixed screen size/resolution). Ignore for now that the formatting of this table of contents does not let you readily differentiate chapter headers versus section headers.

    Now try to get a good overview of the Table of Contents by swiping the table from bottom to top just like you would in thousands and thousands of other iOS apps. The table moved a little. Go ahead, swipe it again so you can get to the bottom of the table. Again, the table moved a little. Ok swipe it 20 times, maybe you can get to the bottom of the table.

    Here’s my point: Apple apparently did the R&D on inertial scrolling years ago. They introduced it in a consumer device over 3 years ago, and it became one of the most important characteristics of a revolutionary interface. They gave developers the ability to use it (e.g., UITableView, etc.) over 2 years ago, used by thousands of pro apps, amateur apps, and apps written by 12 year old kids. You just define the table’s contents and navigation, and the operating system takes care of the inertial scrolling for you. It works.

    Why try to destroy what works beautifully, and is pretty much a hallmark of the interface?

    You just spent months and months to develop an application that feels like it is in the alpha stage. Now you are going to spend months and months to try to adapt your application to fit into the OS for which it was intended, which may or may not be details needed in other operating systems.

    Therefore, my question is: Would this not have been much easier and quicker to just develop this using the developers tools that Apple gives you? Seriously, your application fails in the simple details of its interface, an interface that Apple practically hands to you on a silver platter if all you are using are tables and page views.

    Note that your target audience has placed an iOS development book within your top 10 titles.

  4. rgoodside

    The alternative would be to limit our list of targeted devices to a small set of devices/platforms and write and maintain native apps only for those.

    Your alternatives are to provide a minimally usable experience on the one platform that has virtually all of the tablet market, or to allow Nitobi to publicly embarrass themselves on every platform.

    How bad does this app have to be before you can admit that Nitobi has failed? What reason do you have to think that a company that produced an app of this quality is capable of producing anything even remotely usable for your customers?

  5. Kurt Hill

    I did not see in your list of fixes any mention of the Infinite Backup bug…

    When I install the app, then sync with my Mac, the backup never completes — at least, not in under three hours. When I uninstall the app, the backup completes in normal time.

    I cannot backup my iPad with your app installed.

    I am curious as to why book take so long to download, as well. Every other reader manages it in seconds, maybe a few minutes, tops…

    • CJ Rayhill

      Please check out the discussion on:

      Although I appreciate that this problem appears with our app, we don’t seem to be the only app to cause this problem on the iPad. We will work with Apple until a root cause can be isolated. As a work-around, you might want to try using:
      http://www.digidna.net/products/backoff
      to turn off sync until you have enough time to complete a full sync.

  6. Nathan Rivera

    I’m excited to try the new version. Thank you for releasing this app for free. Looking forward to seeing it improve over time.

  7. Bakafish

    I’m going to rant at you with love. I have 40+ physical ORA books and I can’t think of a publisher I’d be more proud of writing for, and your from my old stomping grounds in Petaluma, so don’t take this the wrong way.

    I think you have fundamentally missed one of the lessons of software development that you, of all companies, should be most aware of. Cross platform development involving complex UI is always a losing proposition, it’s a race to the lowest common denominator, a satisfy no one solution. You are also making the truly premature optimization of assuming that there will be a market beyond the iOS platform, and that creating this craptacular framework based product rather than a native app and porting it to other platforms as required is a good idea. I’m not here to tell you how to do you business, but you went way over schedule and you have this to show for it, and where are all these other platforms of which you speak? Is this running on a Joojoo or one of the 7 Samsung Tab’s in the wild really going to help you at this point? You had a hardcore group of people actually paying money to subscribe to your service on only the promise of a solution, and you got greedy, we can kill this bird and all the birds that have yet to hatch too. Speaking of birds, I’m sure that implementing “Angry Birds” in a cross platform JS framework would have been a way better solution, I bet those guys who had to make all that money are kicking themselves right now. I mean they could have had a crappy implementation running on the Windows 7 phone right this moment! Suckers…

    I’ll go even further, you decided to implement your own end to end solution. I understand that you can’t go through Apple’s book store, but would it have killed you to leverage your existing infrastructure and file formats? You have this hideous “print” version that doesn’t scale (it’s low res static images, hello 1993. Look a picture of a page of a book, cool!) even though you obviously have PDF’s of these books. We all hate DRM, but would it have killed you to just implement an encryption layer around that (or EPub) and use nice pre-made and optimized rendering engines? I’ve seen the millions of files of crap that makes up your ‘Bookbag’ file repository and it’s sad. How could that possibly be cross platform? You’re going to have to port that mess across all your ‘alternative’ platforms, your saying that’s all done in Javascript? I’m a big fan of JS, but that’s child abuse where I come from. Was this all to get around licensing issues? You have to pay the book publishers if it’s a PDF, but a bunch of cached images and file fragments is free? I’m struggling to understand the wisdom of yet another proprietary file format.

    The whole point of a native app is that it is native! You guys made poor design decisions hoping that you could have it all and are having trouble stepping back and admitting that this was a mistaken approach, and you blew it, and you need to stop and reevaluate your approach. What we want is NATIVE OFFLINE access to our books on our iPad’s. That’s it. We don’t give a flying fig about some stupid Android thing that might someday ship. If that is ever your market you’ll find the resources (and use the experience) to port to that platform. There’s like 8-9 MILLION iPads out there, Jesus, do you understand your market? We should be able to log in, the stupid app should sync what’s in our bookshelf and then we should be able to read it, from that local store, connection or no. It should work like a nice Apple EPub book (you’ve used that right?) and that’s it. I know, your terrified that I’m going to put 5 books on my iPad, and then change all the books on the web interface and then I’ll have 10 books and I only payed for 5 or some such nonsense. Make them time out or something, or just don’t treat us like children. If we were going to rip you off we wouldn’t be your customers in the first place. You insulted the best advertisers of your product with this fiasco, a kick ass native iPad implementation would have been a killer app on this platform and would have made you a lot of money. Buck up, do the right thing.

    • Bakafish

      Ug, “you’re”, I’m obviously not a writer, I’m a programmer.

    • Cody

      Yes, I agree… cross-platform is everyone’s dream and it never works.

      Seriously, guys, your target audience is developers. What you should do is instead of writing apps, release an API and let the market develop the apps for you.

    • Viper

      I’m going to rant at you with love. I have 40+ physical ORA books and I can’t think of a publisher I’d be more proud of writing for, and your from my old stomping grounds in Petaluma, so don’t take this the wrong way.
      I think you have fundamentally missed one of the lessons of software development that you, of all companies, should be most aware of. Cross platform development involving complex UI is always a losing proposition, it’s a race to the lowest common denominator, a satisfy no one solution. You are also making the truly premature optimization of assuming that there will be a market beyond the iOS platform,…

      TL;DR – But your two points here are right on the mark: Cross platform UI = BAD, Premature Optimisation = BAD.

      Suggest you open the API and let the Open Source crowd show you how to write an app :-)

  8. Oliver

    I’m not quite as negative towards PhoneGap as some of the others. I’ve used the ArsTechnica app which is based on PhoneGap. It does a MUCH better job of feeling native, but even it has problems. I think Nitobi has dropped the ball here.

    Building a multiplatform application framework is a drastically different KIND of project than building an end user application. Just because Nitobi has done the former with a measure of success does not mean they can do the latter.

    This feels like a $50K app where a $150K app was needed…

    OLIVER

    • Beau Randall

      $50K for a 6 month project? That’s one engineer working at contracted rate of $48/hr, which around here would be a kid out of college. I’d wouldn’t be surprised if the expenditure for this was a quarter mil or more.

      I’m not in total agreement that this is quite as poor as some are making it out to be. It just has some really terrible, obvious bugs that screams to me more of a rush job to hit a deadline than a lack of skill.

      • Oliver

        I can’t imagine this has 6 months of work on it. Looks more like 3 months of actual work for 1 person…

      • Beau Randall

        But this app _has_ been in development for 6 mos, that much has been made clear. Note that this doesn’t mean the finished product we’re looking actually has, but you can’t discount previous prototypes, concepts, etc. Then the cost for such things beyond development – ie. project management + the resources Safari has to provide. That all costs money and leads up to what we have here.

      • Oliver

        Beau,

        I didn’t know that work on it had been done for that long, I’ve only come across it more recently. If that’s the case, then yeah, your numbers sound right and make the situation even sadder. I really hope this can get turned around. I think that this project will soon become critical to their business.

  9. ShaunL

    I’ve been looking forward to the arrival of the Safari To Go app for months – but am shocked at how poorly implemented it is.

    Search sometimes works, sometimes doesn’t. Offline books doesn’t function well and leaves confusion as to what is going on. Scrolling lists works, but sometimes after only 5 attempts. Swiping to change the page – as described in your video doesn’t work. Clicking the next page sometimes ignores you as well. In HTML mode, you can’t zoom into pictures. In HTML mode, scrolling the page may lead to some users having fits with all the extreme flashing as the page jumps around. Zooming in on print mode reveals a blurry mess, meaning you had may as well not have zoomed in the first place. Logging in sometimes remembers my details, sometimes doesn’t. Drag and drop into the favourites folders doesn’t work. Not even trying to scroll the favourites works when in cover mode – and how on earth are we supposed to scroll it in list mode?

    All in all – the idea is great, the feature set a great starting point but the implementation is an absolute farce and in my opinion down right embarrassing for both Nitobi and Safari Books. If it were my shop, I’d remove the app from the store and go and have a sober chat with the dev team. I’ve been a subscriber for a long time now, but lately find myself tending to buy books more often via Kindle so I can read on my iPad whether online or offline (yes you can do PDF’s, but the experience isn’t as good as an ePub/mobi which is only available for limited books on safari) – this app doesn’t make it a rational choice to stop doing that.

    I’m hopeful that a properly developed app will arrive at some point in the future.

  10. Thomas

    I don’t understand why you didn’t take the approach of developing the underpinnings of the application to be cross-platform but designing the interface using the native APIs. You could even layout your app using the native APIs and treat the HTML UI elements as controls that work within that layout. With this approach behaviors like scrolling would work as expected and the major elements of the UI would be cross-platform and ready to plugin to a similar layout made using the native APIs of whatever platform you are porting to. As many have mentioned, Apple has put a lot of R&D into developing the UI for the iPhone and iPad and it will take an awful lot of time and expense to recreate that experience properly in a cross-platform framework like PhoneGap; wouldn’t it be more cost effective to develop the UI portion using the native APIs?

    Overall I like the look of the application; adding and browsing favorites and the bar across the top look nice. The table of contents is poorly laid out, it should be shown with the proper hierarchy as you would see on the website; as it is now there is no way to properly tell what the structure and layout of the book is from the table of contents. The notes and bookmarks sections are very poor also and lack the information needed to figure out what part of the book a bookmark points to–most people don’t memorize the page numbers in the table of contents so they can cross-reference a page number with the section titles to determine what bookmark they are looking for. The biggest problem with the app though is that it doesn’t behave like an iPad app and generally suffers greatly because of it. Scrolling, page turning, application state on returning from another app, all of these things do not work as expected when compared to the experience of using a typical iPad app that follows Apple’s guidelines.

  11. Vig

    When you design something for an iPad and call it an iPad app you really need to have it as a native app. Why bother creating an app if you want to support it for multiple platforms. IMHO I think support a multi platform will cost more than that of using Apple’s API which simply works. Also using the app reminds me of a beta HMTL 5 webpage rather than an iPad app. I think you should stick to dedicating time to create native apps which is way easier and less time consuming than PhoneGap which clearly doesn’t work

  12. Doug

    So PhoneGap is the reason is doesn’t feel like an iOS app, huh? In fact, its not really an iPad app after all – its some javascript/css intermediary mess. For those of us looking to develop iOS apps – with the help of books in Safaribooks – we’re getting a good indication on why using it is a bad idea.

    Please use something else and get your money back from Nitobi.

  13. Rick

    I have to agree that using PhoneGap was a bad idea. You already have cross-platform access via your website. What users are looking for is the “magic” that a native iPad application provides.

    I suspect your subscribers are some of the most technically informed people on the planet. We are not going to be happy until this app works as we know it can and should.

  14. Charles

    Amaturish, incompetent joke considering the organisations role in Software development, with all the information at their fingertips they seem to know the very best way implement such a solution, but chose to throw that knowledge down the drain and slap their customer base in the face and deliver a high school project.

  15. Veronica Dembicki

    Just downloaded the updated version to my iPad and when i try to view the books I have in my favorites it only shows the upper 1/4 page. I wait to see if it is refreshing but still nothing. Happens on several books I open. Any suggestions?

    Thanks :)

  16. Andrew B

    I don’t see how this train wreck can be fixed without a complete rewrite sans-PhoneGap.

    The mobile version of your website already acts reasonably well as a cross-platform solution; I wish you’d spent time improving that if you didn’t want to go down the native application route.

    Maybe you should just create an API that could allow the experts who subscribe to SBO to collaborate and create their own open-source implementation. It could then be community maintained and take the onus of SBO for creating multiple platform applications.

    Given how good all of the other e-book readers are I wonder why I keep subscribing to SBO… I could take that money and buy Kindle versions…

    • Viper

      Yes, Open Source API would be great. I’m guessing however that this could be very tricky from a legal/security point of view.

      Solution might be to publish the API but with security/permissions to a sandbox of fake books. Then get the Open Source crowd to write competing apps, and pick the best and then in-house it (to maintain control). Obviously that’d have to part of the agreement some how.

      Make it a competition. Get PUBLICITY even, offer rewards [5 free accounts for life or something :-)].

  17. JD Long

    CJ, I know you and your team have to be in pain over this app. It’s terrible. You know that. And now you have a sunk cost problem, a vendor issue, and a “pissed off geeks with pitchforks” problem. Many of us have been there. There are bound to be multiple come-to-Jesus meetings over this. I’ve sat in meetings like that. I’ve led meetings like that. It sucks for every single person at the table.

    I’m not sure if the vitriol in the tone of the comments above makes sense to you or your leadership team. Some folks reading this blog might think that the responses are a little over the top. Let me take a shot at helping this make sense through a personal anecdote.

    I love O’Reilly Publishing. Recently I was invited to be a tech reviewer for _R Cookbook_ and I was over the moon to be asked by O’Reilly to be a reviewer because I love O’Reilly and I have a ton of positive feelings about those fantastic animal clad book covers. So, it’s an understatement to say I’m a fan. And I have this very personal device, my iPad, which I also love. This device is so intimate that I bring it to bed with me and my wife sometimes feels jealousy toward the time and attention I give to this device. So I invited O’Reilly, who I love and trust, to come join me for a shared experience on this very personal device. And when O’Reilly came over, in the form of the Safari to Go app, it was like having a trusted friend over who then decides to rub their muddy shoes on my suede couch while yelling “F*ck your couch! F*ck your couch!”
    The app is shockingly bad and totally inconsistent with the rest of my experience with O’Reilly. Hours which I could have spent kicking ass were spent being mocked by this poorly coded and dysfunctional app now hogging the resources of my most intimate personal companion.

    You can see this level of hurt and frustration in the blog comments above. The relationship O’Reilly has with its customers is special. You help us kick ass each and every day. When we want to learn something we go to you and you teach us through your books, your blogs, and your magazines. We’re the ones who download IT Conversations podcast and scan through the playlist deleting Dr. Moira Gunn in order to move Tim O’Reilly higher up in the playlist. When we daydream about being rock stars, we don’t think about which model of Fender we’ll play, we think about which animal the editors will pick to go on the cover of our book. And we hope to god they don’t pick some overly cuddly critter or a 3 toed sloth. We want to be like Randal Schwartz and have our book known simply by the animal on the cover.

    CJ, you’re an ass kicker too. You graduated from the Navel Academy, for crying out loud. You’re a trail blazer and the Safari to Go app is a trailblazer. But I (and many others) think this project has lost its way. It seems the trail you tried to blaze was creating a multi-platform reader. Please allow me to be so bold as to suggest this is not the right goal. A better goal is to thrill your rock star fans with the best possible mobile off line Safari reading experience that helps them kick serious ass.
    You’ve got some hard choices to make about your vendor, your technology stack, and your implementation strategy. They are hard choices. But hard choices are the cost of being a trailblazer. If it was easy, someone else would have already done it.

    I believe that the Safari mobile initiative could revolutionize not only technical books, but also text books. But the core of the platform has to be solid. Not only is the current core not solid, it’s unusable. But I know you can fix it. I’m glad Safari Books Online has you at the helm of their ship. Fix this thing, CJ, so we can all be rock stars with you. We’re mad because were disappointed. But we want so much to be thrilled.

    -JD Long

    @CMastication

    • Bakafish

      I was with you until the point where you started diss’ing Sloths. :-)

      • Thomas

        That made me laugh! Not that there is anything funny about Sloth discrimination.

  18. Issac

    Start again from a clean slate as a native app – this pathetic excuse for an iPad app should have not gotten approved by Apple in the first place

    This abomination needs to be nuked from orbit.

    Give me a safari to go basic which is a clone of iBooks or Kindle app without any integration with the web – just let it download the books that are on my bookshelf for offline reading – feel free to steal their nice and usable UIs and don’t continue putting lipstick on this pig.

  19. booyip

    I have recently purchased an SBO subscription and although I am not currently an iPad owner, I was going to purchase one primarily for using this app. I wanted an on-the-train commuting study tool. I have a netbook, and while it does many things well, the SBO HTML version combined with a 10″ landscape screen is not a workable study solution, as grappling with the interface breaks my concentration too much. I am not interested in Purchasing PDF versions of anything – so it’s all about the interface for me as I dip in and out of lots of different texts.

    I think you should take as an example what Spotify have done with streaming music services. I used the free version with adverts for 6 months, before I decided to pay for the subscription. A little while later I got a smartphone and as a paying Spotify user was able to downloaded the free Spotify Android app. This is where the love really began. Instead of using Spotify mainly on weekends, I now use it for 1-2 hours every single day. I would now pay twice the monthly subscription cost just to use the mobile version alone, as it has taken an already excellent service, and made it workable everywhere I go. Before I discovered spotify, I used to be a naughty pirate – not any more.

    I am really really impressed with the services on offer from SBO. I like it so much, I am willing to buy specific hardware for it to run on. I echo the calls for a simple offline-focused app for iPad – maybe alongside the all-singing all-dancing full version. I really want to find a way to use this subscription more often and this iPad application is absolutely key to my ongoing subscription. If not, I will reluctantly go back to pdfs from torrent sites.

    Good luck with fixing it up – I hope to see a few more positive comments I’ll be heading to my nearest apple store.

  20. dking

    I was one of the beta testers. As outlined in an earlier blog post, they gave us two versions to test. They also gave us a script to run through for each version (1. Do this, 2. Do that, etc). We then had to fill out a survey with regards to our experience using each app as we completed the scripts step-by-step. So official beta testing was pretty narrow. Though I did play around outside the scope of the scripts and tried to do some day-to-day use.

    I wish I had saved my feedback now…I responded with a decent amount. But I think I can sum it up with one line: reading a book with Safari To Go should be just like reading a book in iBooks (crisp text, resizable w/o scrolling, quickly scannable, and easily navigable).

    Now that it’s been revealed they are using PhoneGap, it is easy to see why there are such shortcomings in the app. The iPad user experience is so tight, I expect the applications to have that same great user experience. I’m disappointed they chose to go the “least common denominator” route.

  21. Andrej

    Please cancel the development contract with Nitobi and start fresh. From scratch. Hire a good iOS developer. And if it’s expensive, charge for the app. It’s ok. You can charge $10 for a great working app, no problem.

    We don’t want free junk.

      • John

        I don’t think paying for the app is the answer. Vendors need to stay competitive and if you nickel and dime your customers for every little add-on service you may make your product too expensive for some customers or anger your customers enough to drop your service.

        I love my Safari Books account and the standard web access is great. However, I think I agree with everyone who has posted a reply about the iPad app. It’s horrible and virtually unusable. I’ve been trying to use it since it was released and the performance coupled with the incredibly poor graphics quality is just too tough to use. I’ve deleted the app and switched back to the mobile version.

        I don’t think it is too much to ask for a high quality free application when we are paying for the content.

        I think Safari has received the message loud and clear that their app doesn’t meet customer needs. Hopefully they take the message to heart and come back with something that blows us away.

    • Andrej

      Can’t reply to John’s comment (why is there no Reply link under his comment?) — this reply is to John’s comment below.

      > I don’t think it is too much to ask for a high quality free application when we are
      > paying for the content.

      Why should other subscribers pay for the development of the free app, when they don’t even have an iPad? Why should the subscription costs go up only to cover the
      cost of developing the new iPad app?

      I think it is fair that subscribers using an iPad pay for the iPad app. If you don’t want
      this, then just stick to the Online version.

      We’re in this mess probably because O’Reilly listened to people like you: It has to
      be cheap, and it has to be free. This is why we have a crappy app. Wait… the app
      just got pulled. Now you have nothing! But at least that’s free. Kudos!

      • GSnyder

        Well, for that matter, why should iPad users subsidize the development costs of the regular Safari web site? Those users should pay separately for the content and the web interface! :-)

        Given that we’re talking about such an expensive service, I doubt that it makes any business sense for Safari to charge for the app. But for the record, I too would be willing to pay just to get Nitobi out of the way and let someone who knows what they’re doing have a crack at it.

  22. Charlie

    I’ve cancelled my subscription solely due to the poor quality of the application. And as numerous people have stated, there’s no way you can possibly make a good application with a cross-platform solution. It’s simply embarrassing that you could even think that, given how much information your staff must have, as you after all offer all this knowledge yourself.

    Find a new provider who can write a native application and release it, and I will resubscribe. Until then, no deal.

  23. PatrickI

    Ever since this app was released, I, like many others, have felt the urge to explain to you, convince you, that this app is terrible by iOS standards. The big question for many of us is how can an app of this poor quality have been publicly released by your senior management. Initially I thought that maybe senior management has never used an iPad before (or any iOS device) and therefore don’t know much about iOS standards or the capabilities of the iPad, other than watching it demoed to them in the boardroom or watching their kids play a game or two. But then according to a previous blog post, CJ wrote:
    I happen to own an iPad without 3G, and after using this version of Safari To Go for the last couple of weeks, I know the Offline Bookbag feature alone has been invaluable for me as I travel!
    So now I am even more boggled. I, too, have used the Safari To Go to pre-load books (confirmed downloaded and processed) and then I took the iPad on a 5 hour cross-country flight…I got a headache from the low-resolution pages and I was fatigued from the inconsistent navigation. After several pages of reading, pages would become blank and would only reappear if I exited the app and restarted it…navigating back to the same page I was reading was such I hassle I just switched to using the Amazon Kindle app to read another book, where your mind is allowed to focus on the content and become oblivious to the interface. In the two weeks you used Safari To Go like you wrote, this reading experience was satisfactory to you? I can only assume you have never used another iPad app before (iBooks? Goodreader?) to know the basic requirements and the capabilities of the hardware.

    Please try this: download the app iAnnotate PDF to your iPad. Then download a PDF of any book in the Safari library, particular one where the layout and/or graphics are important, such as “Head First for iPhone Development”. Use iAnnotate PDF to read this book. iAnnotate scrolls the full pages vertically and very quickly. In fact, you can practically scroll through the entire full pages of the book much more quickly than you can scroll just the text table of contents of a book in Safari To Go.

    • PatrickI

      Just to be clear, I’m not suggesting that vertically-scrolling pages of iAnnotatePDF is a better user interface…I actually prefer the horizontal page-turning of iBooks or the horizontal scrolling of the Kindle app and Goodreader app. I am simply trying to make the point that a native app definitely has enough resources to very quickly scroll through full pages with graphics…something that PhoneGap obviously will never be able to do especially since you can’t even get PhoneGap to scroll a simple text table satisfactorily.

  24. Vinny

    Find a competent iOS developer to make a native app that delivers a user experience similar to that of iBooks. You guys obviously have a great catalog of content, and a huge user base…why sabatoge that? Go with a cross-platform solution for the various Andriod devices, but stick to native with Apple, and I think it will work out better for everyone. Please cut your losses, and resist the urge to try and “fix” the broken “all purpose” app…you will just end up wasting time and money while alienating customers.

  25. Ryan J

    This guy’s list of must have features is pretty close to what I was expecting:

    http://safaribooksonline.wordpress.com/2010/11/04/safari-to-go-approved-for-app-store-release/#comment-918

    My own notes…

    When I have a book in my favorites and drag it into the bookbag in the STG app moves it from favorites to my bookbag. However, there’s no bookbag folder on the website, so it just disappears.

    I’ll skip being critical of the app implementation since I’m sure you guys get the point by now. There is one thing that strikes me as odd though. Why does the bookbag act like a 10 slot bookshelf when I have a library subscription? Aren’t you guys worried that you’ll have a bunch of library subscribers suddenly realize the bookshelf options is ‘good enough’ for them?

    Also, the bookbag doesn’t fit very well with the way I use my library subscription. When I’m researching something I’ll skim the relevant chapter from several books and favorite one or two that fit well with my learning style for future reference. I haven’t read a full book for years and, for me, that’s where ALL the value of my library subscription is.

    For me, the way the bookbag works is akin to being forced to buy a full CD when I only want one or two tracks. I was really hoping the iPad app would let me archive chapters for offline reading without any arbitrary limitations.

    While my library subscription is active I can access the whole library anyway. What’s difference does it make if the content is cached to my iPad as long as my subscription is active? Why not let me cache as much content as I want and simply require a login every 30 days? Apple’s closed ecosystem is excellent for subscription services and I think you guys are really missing the mark by placing arbitrary limitations on the amount of content I can cache to my device.

    I’ve been a subscriber since the beginning of 2006. The ONLY thing that SBO provides that makes it a better alternative than competing services, buying print books or piracy is unmatched usability. Having unrestricted, on-demand, searchable access to a massive library is incredibly valuable to me.

    When you start cutting corners and it impacts usability or you start adding unnecessary limitations, such as only being able to cache 10 (full) books at a time for offline reading, you’re devaluing the main features that make SBO an attractive product, at least for me.

    If caching content for offline use is being limited due to licensing restrictions and the attitudes of content providers, then I truly fear the future of your industry.

  26. Michael Van Kleeck

    I actually decided to start a paid Safari subscription for the first time as a result of the iPad app. Yeah, it’s not perfect- I’d especially like magnification, cross-book searching, and page swipe- but I’ve seen and used and benefitted from apps that are worse. I get the content I need and I know how to access it.

    I’d rather have this now and something better 6 months from now than have to wait 3 months for something better.

    It’s a good start and I’m a contented, if not fully satisfied, user. I just wanted to be a voice of positivity among all these harsh critics.

    Integration with iBooks would be very, very nice. Maybe you can help Apple develop a subscription model for iBooks?

    -Michael

  27. GSnyder

    It’s interesting to note that Ars Technica’s iPad app, which debuted at the beginning of November, is also based on PhoneGap. It’s aimed at a similar (technically inclined) audience, and has received a similar reception to Safari To Go; everyone despises it. See the comments here on the Ars Technica site itself or here on iTunes (where the rating is just a fraction over one star). Users complain of similar problems — everything is unusuably slow and the app doesn’t behave like an iOS app.

  28. TchaTcho

    You should be using appcelerator titanium, that will compile in native language for each device. I think you shoul start again. If you let me charge 1,99 for this app i build this software in one month for free. Not joking, i like the service and i rebuid the softawe for free for you. Please contact me at my email. Thanks

  29. Christian

    This app is FUBAR. I was ready to pay money to get it on my iPad but you screwed everything up. Fire the idiot who suggested to use the cross platform crap. This PhoneGap is bull$^&!. Yet another cross platform framework crap that is just build to fool managers who have no clue on mobile real world problems. It never works, it never worked and it will never work. Hire a decent iOS developer and build the application from scratch again but please this time as a real native application. Everything else is just a waste of everybody’s time.

    • Tchatcho

      Hahaha You right, phonegap was the wrong choice. But this was good, this app prove that phonegap should never be used… Ever. The problem its not with the fact of phonegap be cross device, but the controls. Phonegap use a website as the software. Titanium, for example, use the real ios controls and recompile the javascript to objective c. Its almost the same as use real objective c. And he recompile the same project for android and blackberry. Give a look. He uses the real native controls for each device.

  30. Rao

    What is a “catalog page” for a book? how do you find out what the version of the iPad app is? how do you “unfavorite” a book if it is already marked as a favorite? It is extremely frustrating when your suggested solutions themselves require a decoder/manual to implement. The blog post is as unthinking of the end user as the app itself is.

    • Diane

      I’m sorry you’re having trouble navigating Safari Books Online.

      1. Catalog Page

      The catalog page is the overview page for a book/video. It displays information such as Title, author, publisher, ISBN, overview of content, Amazon.com reviews, etc.

      2. Safari To Go Version

      Finding the version of our iPad app is the same as all apps – Go to Settings on your iPad and tap Safari To Go under “Apps.” Verison will display on the right side of screen. Our current version is 1.0.3.

      3. Removing a title from your Favorites

      Safari To Go – Login to the app. Tap “My Favorites.” Tap the Edit button at the bottom of the overlay. Tap the X on the title you would like to remove.

      Full Site – Login and click the MY SAFARI link. Click the X next to the title you would like to remove.

      I hope this helps. You’ll find more help documentation at support.safaribooksoline.com.

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