Safari 15 Opinions

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It was interesting that when Safari 15 was dropping at this last WWDC, in my circles at least, I mostly heard enthusiasm. Like the colors-in-the-browser-controls stuff was a neat trick and fun to play with. And there were other more serious features, like iCloud Private Relay, which were near-universally applauded for the security innovation.

But the UX changes in Safari 15 are much more controversial in wider and more generally Apple-related circles.

Michael Tsai has a big roundup of opinions, including many serious criticisms. Like Steven Shen showing off how hard the tabs are to use on iPadOS and Saagar Jha pointing out that it’s hard to tell the difference between private browsing and not.

But I’d say most of the criticism is leveled at the browser controls themselves, regardless of the color trickery. Nick Herr went as far as calling it Chickenshit Minimalism:

Condensing the address bar into each tab is also irksome. It is a clever idea, but it means that everything moves around because tabs move. They scroll left to right; they change size as you open and close other tabs.

The small size of a browser tab also means that many controls are hidden by default, including the reload and share buttons. They are all buried into one of those vague “⋯” controls that Apple is obsessed with these days. If you share web links a lot, there is not even a way to add the button back to the toolbar in a more permanent state. This, I think, continues a worrying pattern of bad UI habits.

In other words, chucking useful buttons under a random kebab menu isn’t something that people who used those buttons are going to be fond of. There’s “Hiding buttons from popular built-in apps is a bad idea.” by Federico Viticci, which goes into similar changes in iOS Safari. Gruber also:

I think the new Safari interface is a noble experiment — intriguing ideas that were worth trying out. But I don’t know anyone who thinks, in practice, that they’re not a huge regression in usability. I’d love it if Apple just went back to the previous Safari interface for tabs and browser chrome. It’s crazy to me that even the Share button is now an extra click or tap away. If Apple ships this design for the Mac it’s going to push a lot of current Safari users to Chrome or other Chromium-based browsers.

Not popular changes. I wonder if people would really jump-ship just for this? My hunch is that Safari users are either Safari users because that’s just what ships on their Mac and they don’t care to think about it much, or are Safari users very much on purpose because of the Apple-ness of it and these changes wouldn’t be enough to force them away.

Others applaud the effort. Jason Snell calls it a self-inflicted wound, but sees the good:

Apple has tried to minimize Safari’s interface as much as possible. Its designers have looked at every single interface element, from the tabs to the URL bar to every single toolbar item, and pondered if they could afford to hide, remove, or minimize those elements to give more space on the screen for the web page itself.

I think that Apple should be applauded for making the effort, not only because the vast majority of its customers are using screens that are at most 13 inches measured diagonally, but because Apple should always be striving to find better ways of doing things. I don’t believe there’s any class of app—from web browsers to email clients to text editors—that’s a solved problem.

Jeff Kirvin thinks it’s just misunderstood:

What I see in Safari 15 is the first steps into a new design language for iOS, one prioritizing adaptive, contextual interfaces. Ever since the move to the new “all screen” iPhone X design, content has been king on iOS, and Apple has been removing more and more user chrome. This is the next step on that journey.

While I’m at the Safari 15 thing here…