Why Is Everyone Complaining About Safari’s New Design?

Please, Apple, just give us our tabs back

Key Takeaways

  • The next version of Safari makes some major changes to tabs.
  • Safari for iPadOS 15 and macOS Monterey is really hard to use.
  • Tab Groups are fantastic, but overshadowed by the other changes.
Apple's streamlined Safari browser

Apple

There’s plenty of buzz around Apple’s next versions of iOS and macOS, but it’s not good. Apple’s new Safari design is just terrible, and everyone is going wild about it.

There are three new versions of Safari—one for the Mac, one for the iPhone, and one for the iPad—but the controversy is centered around one common aspect of the three: tabs. Apple has completely redesigned the tab bar so it takes up less space at the top of a window on the Mac and iPad versions. That sounds great, but wait until you hear what you have to give up in return.

"People will not settle for a version of Safari that doesn’t make using it efficient or easy," digital consultant and web designer, David Attard, told Lifewire via email. "However, Safari does have its own perks and most people might not be switching as the Apple device compatibility and convenience with Safari is better than Chrome. Apple is sure to take in the customer response and work on bettering the experience."

Bad Tabs

In the iPadOS 15 and macOS Monterey betas, Apple has made significant changes to Safari. There are some great new privacy features, but the most noticeable changes can be seen in the interface itself. Take a look at the browser you’re reading this article in right now.

Almost certainly, there is an address bar, and a tab bar, and the open tab is visually connected to the address bar. You may also have a bookmarks bar, plus a bunch of icons in the address bar—reload, back, forward, and any extensions you may have installed. It probably looks like this:

Apple Safari browser

Lifewire / Charlie Sorrel

It’s easy to read, parse, and understand. Compare that to Safari in the early iPadOS 15 betas:

Apple's redesigned toolbar for Safari

Apple

Oof. What a mess. Apple has combined everything into one row. Each tab now has its own address field, and these tabs shrink, grow, and even move from left to right as you select them. Nothing is ever in the same place, so it's impossible to navigate by "muscle memory." Instead, you must look up and search for the tab you want, every single time. Usability-wise, it’s a nightmare. And it gets worse.

Apple also removed all the buttons you might use while browsing. The reload button, the forward and back arrows, and even the share arrow are all gone. To find them, you have to tap a tiny ellipses icon. And we mean tiny—even on the large 12.9-inch iPad, the circle containing the three dots is absurdly small. When you tap this ellipsis, you see the normal share sheet, only the actual share section is still hidden! You have to tap another Share icon to reveal it.

"People will not settle for a version of Safari that doesn’t make using it efficient or easy."

And that’s still not the end of the pain. The entire top section of the browser, the "window chrome," as it is known, changes color to match the current website.

On the iPhone, the tab situation has actually improved. Apple has moved the URL/address bar to the bottom of the screen, instead of the top, making it easier to tap when using the iPhone with one hand. The UI for this is still rough, but it’s fine, because this is an early beta, and Apple seems to have gotten the message about how bad the current situation is.

Good Tabs

There are some good changes, though. One is Tab Groups, which are essentially folders for tabs, only smarter. Instead of keeping hundreds of tabs open in the browser, you can split them into smaller groups. Tapping a tab group switches to that group, and closes the current one. You could already group tabs into folders, but this is different.

Safari Tab Groups

Apple

Tab Groups are more like separate windows, in that they update themselves. You just browse as usual, opening and closing websites and tabs, and whenever you switch to another tab group, the current one is frozen. The old way, using folders, was static, and you had to manually add and remove sites from the folders.

Tab Groups sync across all your devices, so if you close a tab on your iPhone, it also closes on your Mac. 

Fixes

Apple is already addressing some of these poor design choices. In the latest macOS beta version, Safari reverted to separate address and tab bars, but the tabs are still visually separate from the rest of the window chrome. On the iPad, the share button has returned to the main URL bar, but there is still no reload button (you can pull-to-reload, but that’s a pain if you’re at the bottom of a page).

The good news is, according to reliable sources, Apple has "a lot of changes and refinements" still to come over the summer. Hopefully, these will undo all the bad changes, and just leave the good.

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