Browser Smackdown: Safari

Browser Smackdown: Safari

Since I was traveling last week, I figure this week would be a great time to post a Browser Smackdown double-header: I’ll be reviewing Apple’s Safari desktop and mobile browsers.

This week’s contender in the browser brawl is Apple’s own Safari, a browser that means to capture all the innovation, intuition, and intelligence of Apple’s products. Safari provides a minimal, delightful experience that integrates incredibly well with and across Apple devices.

A Safari icon I drew myself

Safari was first released with OS X v 10.2 in 2003, following a 5-year agreement Apple had with Microsoft to only include Internet Explorer as the default browser. Safari runs on the open source WebKit engine, which (in various incarnations) powers most modern web browsers.

In 2007, Apple released a Windows version of Safari that has been discontinued since 2012.

My week(s) with Safari

Safari was actually the browser that inspired me to take on this project. I thought it was strange that I always just blazed right past Safari and opened up Chrome instead. I figured it deserved a fair shake.

I was first struck by Safari’s beauty. The frame is minimal and the animations are delightful and meaningful.

Safari's address bar
Safari’s (too?) minimal address bar

Maybe it’s a little too minimal, even. Much like in newer releases of iTunes, I found myself Googling how to perform simple browser actions because they simply weren’t there for me to see.

Cool features

As I explored more of the minimal interface, I was happy to run across a powerful, collapsible sidebar.

The Social tab of Safari's sidebar.
The Social tab of Safari’s sidebar.

This bar is where your bookmarks go. But that’s not all. There is also a reading list, where you can save articles to read later, as well as a social media feed, which compiles all of your linked accounts into one stream. Awesome.

Previously, I would have to install a few extensions or subscribe to a few services to bring these features together. Safari packages them neatly together, where you can put them out of the way, if need be.

Inspector woes

As I mentioned, I do a lot of designing in the browser. It’s very important to me to have a functioning web inspector that lets me edit code and see the changes in real-time. For as much as Apple touts the democracy of technology, I’m afraid to say they let me down in this area.

The cursor jumps about, you’re never sure what you’re editing, the auto-complete is inaccurate… the list really goes on.

But worst of all…

Safari is slow. Really slow. Like, if it were any slower, it would be IE. Hopefully Safari gets some speed upgrades in the upcoming release.

Mobile, though…

Safari on iOS is very nice indeed. I really don’t mind that I can’t set another browser as the default. It’s fast, friendly, and well-integrated with the desktop version.

I know a lot of applications support Handoff but a kind of priority is set on Safari’s use of the feature. If you’re brave and use iCloud Keychain, your user names and passwords will even transfer between devices.


Here’s the customary pros/cons list I’m sure many of you are dying to read:


As you might come to expect, the interface, interactions, animations, and overall design of Safari is minimal, delightful, and beautiful.
Powerful sidebar.
Safari ships with a collapsible sidebar that includes Favorites (bookmarks), a Reading List (kind of like an RSS reader), and a Subscriptions tab where any social media feeds get funneled into a feed right in the browser.
“Reader” view.
The desktop and mobile versions of Safari can render articles in a stripped-down, “reader” view, which is great for getting rid of distractions like ads and funky fonts. Firefox 38.0.5 now ships with an even cooler Reader option that lets you change fonts and colors, much like an e-reader device.
Product integration.
Being an Apple device junkie, I really appreciate the cross-device experience and ease with which Safari lets me browse. Hand-off works really well with Safari and, if you’re a trusting individual, Keychain can save all your IDs and passwords for use on all your devices.


All that beauty seems to come at a price. Safari seems sluggish compared to my usual Chrome and last week’s contender, Firefox.
Clunky Web Inspector.
Safari’s web inspector is very hard to use. If you’re trying to edit code on the fly, you never know where your cursor will end up or if terms will be autocorrected.
Sorry non-Mac friends, no Safari for you.
Not enough add-ons.
Safari’s add-on library is all but eclipsed by those of Firefox and Chrome. There’s AdBlock, though.

Make an assessment

Safari on desktop just doesn’t cut the mustard. It’s pretty, sure, but way to slow for me. The mobile version, though, is lovely and fast, noticeably faster than Chrome. I think I’ll start using the mobile version more but wait for new features in desktop.

Coming up next week:

Opera. Will the fat browser sing?

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