It’s clear from the comments thread on this blog post that a lot of you are eager to know the status of the Safari To Go iPad app. And I would be too in your shoes! It took a bit longer than expected to make the app compatible with the latest (4.3) version of iOs, but a Release Candidate is going out to beta testers on Monday, and we expect to submit it to the App Store before the end of next week.
There were three major problems with the initial app released last year. Here’s some detail on what we’ve done to address each of them:
- Non-native controls. While cross-platform frameworks like PhoneGap can (and do) deliver great app experiences, in our case that approach was compounding performance issues (discussed below) and presenting a reading experience that didn’t match what people expected based on other long-form reading apps like Kindle and iBooks. We scrapped the prior code, and started fresh in native Objective-C.
- Too many features. We tried too hard the first time to replicate every bell and whistle from the Safari Books Online desktop Web interface into the iPad app. This time around we took everything off the table and added things back in only if we believed they were really essential to the expectations and experience for an iPad user. We’ll be adding additional features (like advanced search and text highlighting) in over time of course, but this app is meant to complement the Safari Books Online service you’re familiar with, not duplicate it in app form.
- Performance issues. Most of our system API calls were designed when “the Web” meant a place you go in your browser at your PC. Combined with the sheer file size involved with some of the books and videos in Safari (especially those supplied by the publisher only in PDF form) and exacerbated by the non-native coding approach, our first app was just too slow. The new app is much snappier, but re-coding couldn’t address all of those issues — while we are working to make larger-scale system changes, in the meantime no app is going to perform well trying to pull down 200+ MB files on a 3G connection, so like other streaming-service apps like Netflix, this one’s best used over Wi-fi. We’ve trying some different options from a UI and coding perspective for a lighter-weight interface for slower connections, but I didn’t want that to hold back releasing an initial version.
Here’s some screenshots to give you a peek at what to expect from the Safari To Go app. The main page gives you quick access to what’s new, what’s popular, and what you’ve recently viewed, along with a Search box:
Most of the books in Safari are presented in reflowable (and resizable) HTML. In the case of titles provided by the publisher in PDF-only, you’ll see images of those pages:
Searching from within a book delivers results from just that title:
Search results from the main screen include both books and videos:
We’ll have more screenshots and details posted soon. It’s been a pleasure working with Ken Yarmosh and his team on this app, and I look forward to hearing your feedback as we make Safari To Go the best it can be.
About the Author
Andrew Savikas, Chief Executive Officer
Andrew Savikas is the Chief Executive Officer at Safari Books Online. Prior to his appointment as CEO, he held the positions of VP of Digital Initiatives at O’Reilly Media Program Chair for O’Reilly’s Tools of Change for Publishing conference , and interim Chief Executive Officer of Safari Books Online. Andrew blogs at blog.safaribooksonline.com and toc.oreilly.com, and is also a regular contributor to the O’Reilly Radar blog and to “Book: A Futurist’s Manifesto,” a collection of essays on the future of publishing, http://book.pressbooks.com. Andrew previously led the digital publishing and ebook program and strategy for O’Reilly Media, including both print and digital production of all O’Reilly books. He sits on the board for the Book Industry Study Group and is on advisory boards for Bookshare and the University of Michigan Press. He frequently speaks at technology and publishing conferences all over the world and is also the author of “Word Hacks: Tips & Tools for Taming your Text“.
Andrew holds a B.S. in Media Studies from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and an MBA from Northeastern University in Boston.