We’ve had lots of requests for offline reading in Safari Flow, and I’m excited to share that we’ve started development work on the native apps* that will offer offline first.
We’ve been giving this a lot of thought and have looked closely at how to balance starting from scratch against building on what we discovered from the existing “Safari To Go” apps that complement Safari Books Online.
We’ve also examined what we think are some of the best reading apps, and looked at how other subscription services offer “companion” apps for words and video. For us this has meant looking at apps like Instapaper, Medium, Kindle, Spotify, Rdio, HBOGO and others. (Have other recommendations? Let us know in the comments below)
It makes sense to us that the first release will be centred around the Queue feature in Safari Flow. If you’re not aware of the Queue, it’s a shortcut on any chapter, table of content entry, search result, recommendation or video to “save it for later”. You can add or remove items to your Queue by just clicking on the Queue icon, and your Queue is available from any page on the site.
This week, we just added the ability to Queue whole books, so you can now add chapters, clips, and whole books and videos to your Queue in Safari Flow. The Queue is very popular with many of our users, and so for all these reasons, we think that the Queue provides a great foundation for also providing the means for choosing content to save for reading or watching offline.
We would love to hear from you on some more specific questions we have. For example, we are keen to take advantage of features like “background sync” that would allow us to instantly start downloading content to your devices as soon as you make a change to your Queue. However – some of our books (and almost all of our videos) can be hundreds of megabytes. Should we automatically do that for large files? Or make it a user setting? How respectful should we be of your bandwidth and storage limits?
Other questions include the weighting of reading books offline vs watching video offline, and whether just reading individual chapters in isolation is desirable (spoiler: we think it is). At the other end of the scale, one thing is abundantly clear – iOS far outweighs usage of Flow than any other platform (although don’t worry, we are also working on Android and W8 apps too).
We are hoping to make the apps as elegant and intuitive as Safari Flow. For us that means doing less rather than more, and releasing early and responding to user feedback. Like the web “app”, we think the heart of the experience should be an elegant reading and watching experience for the awesome material in Safari, and to try to get out of your way the rest of the time. So that means also handling the difficult transitions between “offline” and ‘online” (and indeed “intermittent” connectivity) on a subway ride to work.
Please share your thoughts on this below, and do bear in mind that it will be a while (“months rather than weeks”) before the apps are released!
* We’re sad that the current state of native offline support in HTML5 makes it very difficult to provide a good experience in the browser, so we’ll be starting with iOS and then moving into Android and Windows development.