Posted on by & filed under Product Updates & Tips.

It has been a while since our last mobile update and a lot has happened since then.

Mobile access to Safari Books Online continues to grow at a strong pace — more than 12% of all page views now come from mobile devices, and there’s no sign of a slowdown.

To improve the mobile experience for Safari Books Online we’ve made several changes in the past 6 months to lay the foundation for significant improvements in the works throughout 2012:

  • In January, we acquired Threepress, bringing on board mobile reading veteran Liza Daly as our new VP of Engineering (along with the rest of her team)
  • We brought on board an experienced product manager (that’s me!) to lead the efforts across native app platforms and the mobile web
  • We’ve made critical infrastructure changes to support the industry-standard EPUB eBook format, which means more of our library will be mobile-friendly
  • We’re nearly finished with a complete overhaul of the pagination system for our native apps

As we adapt our products for the best experience in the rapidly changing mobile environment, one of the most important things we do (aside from testing) is read the feedback, tweets, Facebook wall posts, product reviews (and even the unfortunate cancellation feedback) that you submit. The comments and suggestions we receive are invaluable insights into what is important to you as early adopters of mobile reading and learning within Safari Books Online.

Now a little bit about the fun stuff we have been working on…

  • “Responsive” Website Re-design– We overhauled our website, and made sure that it’s easy to use whether you are browsing from a desktop, tablet or phone. Try from any device or resize your desktop browser window to see how the layout changes.
  • iPad Native Application – We’ve been making steady improvements to the app including addressing content formatting issues, app stability, usability tweaks, video performance and other specific features that you have submitted to us. (Get it on iTunes)
  • “New” Mobile Website – Last year we also launched an enhanced mobile website at (Must have login). With this site, we have kept up with the latest innovations in iOS, Android and Windows smartphones and tablets to provide a smoother experience to a wide range of smart devices.
  • “Standard” Mobile Website – This site has the same core features of the “New” Mobile site but the pages and navigation are optimized for phones without touchscreens or that have limited processing power, low resolution screens and slower connections. You can also just hit (Must have login) and we’ll get you to the right place based on your device type.
  • iPhone Native Application – We spent some time early this year updating our systems to perform well over 3G on the iPad and this also laid the foundation to develop an iPhone-native version of Safari to Go. The design has been simplified for easy access to the most commonly-used features while on the go (please not while driving!) including offline reading. We don’t have a launch date just yet, but it’s coming along and we wanted to give you a sneak peek of the designs below.
  • Android Native Application – And finally… There has been overwhelming demand for an Android app, and we are listening. We have taken the same philosophy as the iPhone app to get the main features front and center but took a completely different approach for navigation that stays close to the core Android experience you are used to. We’ll let you know as we get closer to launch, but here’s a peek at the Android app as well.
 Safari To Go for Android
Safari To Go for iPhone

About the Author
Bill Levien, Mobile Product Manager, Safari Books Online

Bill spent the last few years as a Sr. Product Manager at a mobile app development firm managing the development of several top rated iOS, Android and Blackberry applications for large brands. He has also led Mobile Device product launches as a Sr. Project Manager for a wireless MVNO and worked as a Regional Development Specialist in the Learning and Development department for one of the major US wireless carriers. Currently, Bill manages the mobile development efforts at Safari Books Online and is based in San Francisco, California.

Tags: Mobile Update, Safari Books Online, safari to go,

17 Responses to “Mobile Products Update”

  1. Steve

    Any plans for supporting the new iPad’s high res display?

    • Bill Levien


      We will submitting a new version to Apple shortly with new higher resolution buttons and artwork, an updated layout grid for home page, and higher resolution cover art for list views and catalog pages.

      There are also some content and back-end tweaks needed in order to make higher resolution source images available for the image based “Print Fidelity” titles like the “Head First” series and also for our videos, so they might take a little longer to build and test but we are working on it.

  2. ronhockman

    I really like the non-HTML book view that is available on the “full” website, as opposed to the HTML version that is displayed in the mobile apps and sites. Right now that pdf-like version of the content isn’t easy to get on the iPad; it’s only available on the full website which doesn’t display well on the mobile browser.

    Do you have a plan/timeline for addressing this issue? Either adding the pdf-like view to the iPad app/mobile site or making the full site mobile-aware?

    Other than that, I’m really pleased with SBO, you guys are doing a great job.

    • Bill Levien

      Thanks for the feedback Ron.

      There is a general trend in the publishing world toward EPUB (HTML) for a variety of reasons. First and foremost, many see the future of publishing as being the world of interactive content – content that allows the viewer to interact with the lesson, story, etc. EPUB supports this paradigm and the traditional formats do not. In addition, publishers need to make choices about where to spend their money. In a word of shrinking margins, they need to choose the formats that give them the most return, and EPUB is a clear choice. Finally, in a world where more and more content viewers are reading and viewing on mobile devices, EPUB provides a much superior mobile experience than do the traditional digital formats.

      Because delivering the PDF “Print Fidelity” to mobile also generally creates a poor reading experience, Safari Books Online is working to phase out PDF based content and replace it with EPUB sourced HTML in the long term and I really think you will find that this is a major benefit to you as a Safari Books Online Subscriber. Here are some of the details:

      • This change removes several obstacles that were preventing timely addition of new titles and means that many more titles will be available on Safari at the same time, or even before, they’re available from print and ebook resellers.
      • A major benefit of our “cloud based” library is the ability to search and learn from many titles quickly without the need to physically possess the entire title, essentially streaming parts of the book on-demand without having to wait for a full 50mb title to download before jumping in.
      • In order to do that for the Print Fidelity titles, we must separate the PDFs into individual pages and compress those image pages to balance quality vs. file size for the shortest download times and smoothest reading experience.
      • BUT the file size limits the quality print fidelity can provide on devices like the new iPad, Galaxy Nexus, Samsung Note with super high resolution screens and even on smaller devices where we have to download multiple sizes of the same page images to support zooming and still have pages that look sharp.
      • EPUB Books are based heavily on web standards like HTML and CSS, so it is ideal for delivery through web browsers and mobile devices (compared to PDF, which is ideal for printing out on paper) and the re-flowable format allows more font sizing and flexibility for mobile devices with various screen sizes
      • EPUB format allows publishers to eventually embed links, videos and other interactive content
      • If the publisher enables it, these titles will also be available for full-book EPUB download via token redemption; chapter downloads will not be available for these titles.

      If you want to learn more, check out these titles about EPUB 3 and Unique Insight into the future of digital publishing from the O’Reilly Tools of Change conference in Safari Books Online:

      • ronhockman

        I have no issue with a book designed in EPUB to be delivered in EPUB. My concern is print books that have been converted from PDF into EPUB. Information is lost in the translation.

        There is overlap between the collection of books I own in PDF and the SBO catalog. For those books where I can choose the format, I use the PDF version almost exclusively.

  3. pete

    Any chance that we can see a better font alternative. The only thing preventing me from reading in a pleasure level is the choice of font and highlighting option. Epub in iBook is a totally different experience than in SBO, which basically is just not polished enough.

    I feel reader just want 3 basic things:

    1. Good font for readability, adjustability, selectivity
    2. Good highlighting and bookmark capability.
    3. Good timely content. For example, the Strata 2012 video is not available or not available in a timely fashion even if Strata 2011 we can view it.

    Or maybe I missed some features that is already there :)

  4. Anonymous

    I have been a user of Safari from day one and it’s been one service that I have been happy to pay for month in month out, year in year out.

    However although mobile

  5. Anonymous

    Hi! Is it possible to get an alpha/beta/testing/whatever version of the Safari To Go Android app? I wouldn’t mind using it and providing feedback, even if it’s still buggy… :)

  6. Chris B

    Any update on this? Frankly, the app looks terrible on the new iPad and one of the main reasons for upgrading to the retina display was a better reading experience.

    • Bill Levien

      The retina version has been submitted, and pending approval…

  7. Bill Levien

    Pete – You didn’t miss anything… Those are great suggestions and are on our roadmap for consideration in one of the next few releases…

    Thanks for the feedback!

  8. Kevin

    Ok – it’s been two months since this was posted… is there an ETA on the Android App?

    • Bill Levien

      The application is still currently in development and testing. We are working hard fixing bugs and adding features so we can deliver an app that is stable and meets the expectations of our subscribers. Thank you for your patience.

  9. Ran Halprin

    The app works well, but it’s very hard to read on the small phone screen and I can’t seem to find a Zoom function anywhere – at least not on the two books I downloaded into the offline bookbag (e.g. Head First Design Patterns). Am I missing something, or is the zoom function not yet implemented?

    • Bill Levien

      Hi Ran,

      In the Android app, we don’t have a zoom feature in our “Print Fidelity” books yet, which are made up of 3 individual images in order to maintain the specific layout of specially formatted books.

      You should be able to rotate your device to landscape orientation and the image page will take up the width of the screen which may be a little easier to read.

      For our HTML “re-flowable” books, we do have a font size control if you tap the center of the screen (anywhere other than an image, code sample or the left/right margins), then tap the “Aa” and you will see an overlay with a “+” or “-” that will let you control the size of the font.

      On the iOS app, you should be able to pinch/zoom on each page in Print Fidelity books or use the font size control the same as described for Android HTML books.


  1.  iPad Updates | Safari Books Online's Official Blog