Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Safari Books Online

I signed up for Safari Books Online today because I wanted to refresh my iOS skills with the latest edition of Beginning iOS 5 Development: Exploring the iOS SDK. The experience is however far from what I expected. Safari Books Online has been around for years and years so I thought they had figured it out and ironed out the rough edges with online reading.

The big screen reader is Flash based and it has a number of problems:
  • The text is blurry.
  • The pages are formatted for print, not for screen reading.
  • The scrolling speed is so fast it's almost not usable (at least on a MacBook trackpad).
The "mobile optimized site" is perhaps not so optimized:
  • The pages are shown as blurry images.
  • The text is so small it is barely legible.
  • There is no pinch-resizing.
  • The zoom function makes the pages just too large to fit in landscape mode on an iPhone 4.
  • The system doesn't remember where you left off, when you switch between the big screen reader and the mobile site.
And there's more:
  • Why aren't errors in the text fixed?
  • Why are links in the text not clickable?
Who said things are moving fast in our business? The IT sector is moving sloooowly.

But guess what, I'll probably become a paying customer just because of the convenience of immediate and ubiquitous access.


Andrew Savikas said...

Thanks for the feedback, Arne, we know that not everyone likes the Flash-based page viewer, and we know those page images aren't the best experience on mobile screens. In this case, the publisher only supplied us with PDF for the title, though we expect to also receive the reflowable EPUB version within the next week. Once we do, you'll have the option to switch over to an HTML-based view of the book, and that's also what will display when you read this title on your mobile device.

You're right that we've been doing the online reading thing for some time now, though that also means a lot of the architecture was developed before the emergence of the HTML-based ebook standard EPUB format, and before most publishers were producing anything except PDF (hence the focus on print-style view). We're in the middle of some major system changes to improve the reading experience (especially on mobile devices) and look forward to hearing your feedback as we roll those out!

Thanks again for the feedback,

Andrew Savikas
CEO, Safari Books Online

Arne Evertsson said...

I'm looking forward to the enhancements since I'm now a subscriber. Of course, you could just hire me to do the iPhone app.