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Safari – the Apple browsing experience

One browser to rule them all? Well, at least in the Apple ecosystem it is.

Safari is Apple’s answer to the likes of Internet Explorer, and later, Chrome and Mozilla. A fully-functional web-browser with a knack for JavaScript and HTML5 video, Safari offers the best of Apple’s integrated functionality. Read on to find out everything you need to know about this exclusive browser from Apple’s stables.

Apple Safari

What is Safari?

Safari is Apple’s self-built web browser that comes pre-installed on all Apple devices. First released in 2003, a brainchild of Apple employee Don Melton and his team, Safari was built on the Webkit framework. The same framework was later adapted to the Blink framework, on which Google’s Chrome browser is built.

Until 1997, the Mac was shipped with the proprietary browsers available at the time – Netscape Navigator, the flagship product of the Netscape company, and Cyberdog, developed by Apple itself – both have since been discontinued. In 1997, Apple made a deal with Microsoft to include the latter’s Internet Explorer as the default browser on all Macs. True to the Apple spirit, this was deeply bothersome to Steve Jobs, and he set in motion a project to build a stand-alone web browser with all the functionality a personal computer would require. In Don Melton’s own words – “We built our own browser because we didn’t want to depend on another company for a critical application.”

Apple Safari
A screenshot of the Mac desktop, circa 2005. The SheepSaver window is an emulator for an older version (Mac OS 9). The host system itself is running Mac OS X 10.4 Tiger with an open Safari 2 window visible (bottom right)

With the existing Mac user base taking quite a liking to the new browser, development on Safari was accelerated after 2003, and Safari 2, released in 2005, became the first browser to pass the Acid2 test for web rendering. In fact, the Acid2 test was designed to expose inconsistencies in Internet Explorer’s rendering protocols. Though the contemporary browser giant, Internet Explorer was falling short of web standards in numerous cases, forcing web developers to unnecessarily tweak the code to make pages render correctly. With the Acid2 test clearance, Apple’s Safari shot ahead of the competition in one swift move.

Interestingly enough, many of the core team members from the Safari project have worked on other browsers. Dave Hyatt, instrumental in getting the browser to pass Acid2, worked at Netscape, and later on a primitive version of Mozilla. The self-taught Don Melton himself has contributed code to almost every browser before Safari.

Over the years, Safari has cemented itself with a solid user base – so much that Apple saw fit to cut out the entire Windows user section. Previously available for Windows (between the years 2007 and 2012), Safari is now exclusively a macOS and iOS software.

For the beginner – an intro to Safari

Apple Safari
The Safari icon on the Mac

Safari is a full-fledged web-browser with a lot of cool features. It has full support for multiple tabs, extensions, bookmarks and history. It also has a built-in search bar-cum-URL bar, with various options for the default search engine. DuckDuckGo, a search engine with a complete non-intrusive policy, is one of the options as a default.

Apple shows a commitment to privacy and security with features like third-party cookie blocking to control data-mining from sites you might not even be visiting, and Private Browsing mode, where your history and activity are deleted at the end of the session. Similarly, Safari implements tab ‘Sandboxing’ – each webpage is run as a separate process so that harmful code designed to expose vulnerabilities in the system cannot affect the other tabs in a browser. This prevents malware and the likes from crashing the entire system.

Apple Safari
The Safari icon on the iPhone, iPod and iPad

For users who own other Apple devices, Safari is an absolute godsend. The Reading List feature allows you to sync links and articles you might want to explore across all your Apple devices using iCloud. AirPlay sets up a direct video feed from Safari to the Apple TV, without displaying everything else on the screen.

Safari’s intuitive Picture in Picture feature allows users to undock videos playing in any Safari tab and drag and resize them on the desktop like ordinary application windows. The sizable RAM on Apple’s suite of devices allows this feature to incorporate entertainment with multitasking.

Safari’s Share menu is a feature that has previously only been common on smartphones but users can now share the pages they’re browsing via Apple Mail, Messages, AirDrop, notes, and many other integrated Apple applications.

Finally, Safari’s beautifully designed Reader feature allows articles and news to be rearranged into an elegant layout with control on the font, style, as well as theme. All this creates a beautiful, intuitive distraction-free reading experience.

What’s great about Safari?

  • Interface
    Safari incorporates principles of simple, elegant design that Apple embodies and champions. Every interaction with the machine is made beautiful – from the swooping minimized tabs, to the intuitive placing of shortcut buttons. Safari integrates with the Notification Centre to provide Push Notifications of activity on open tabs. As of iOS 9 and later, Safari also comes with an inbuilt ad blocker for uninterrupted, annoyance-free browsing.
  • Performance
    A perk of Apple’s hand-in-glove hardware-software integration is a highly efficient browsing experience with Safari. Compared even with powerful renderers like Chrome, Safari uses much less CPU power and RAM – and by obvious translation, less energy. In fact, this can translate to as much as one whole hour of battery life more, compared with the use of Chrome.
    Apple does boast certain areas of complete Safari superiority. On the JetStream test for advanced web-app based JavaScript performance, Safari is about 1.2 times faster than Chrome, and 1.4 times faster than Mozilla. The MotionMark test for the rendering of animated content places Safari a whole 1.5 times faster than Chrome. Finally, Safari beats the competition hollow in terms of everyday JavaScript rendering – a massive 7 times faster than both Chrome and Mozilla.

Apple SafariSafari offers obviously superior battery life

  • Integration
    Safari is tightly integrated with iOS and macOS systems. A user can search in Spotlight and open a link directly in Safari. Clicking a phone number in the browser directly opens a menu to save or call it. Safari is also directly compatible with the iCloud suite – passwords, bookmarks, history, open tabs and even extension data can be synced across devices, and stored in the cloud.
  • Extensions
    Safari has a wide market of extensions. More tightly regulated than the Google extensions, Safari Extension Developers need to apply for a license from Apple – another mark of Apple’s tightly integrated software and high standards (or restrictive policies – whichever way you look at it).
    As a result of this stricter policy, Safari does have far fewer extensions than its prime competitor, Google Chrome. However, standard popular extensions like notes services, bookmark managers, themes, mail trackers, search plugins and even fun games and browsing stats trackers are very much available and under constant development.

For the pros – things to appreciate about Safari

Apple’s terms of service make it pretty obvious that no part of their income is based on advertising or selling user data. Apple keeps things cut and dry – they are about beautiful software and elegant hardware. For those who are concerned with privacy, this is a major case to use Safari.

Apple Safari
Apple doesn’t sell your data

The Google suite logs plenty of information about search terms, account usage stats, location, and pretty much anything it can get its hands on. Much of this data is liable to be used to target ads to the user. Apple, on the other hand, doesn’t seem much concerned with ads. Any information collected is ostensible to improve the user experience.

The KeyChain feature of iCloud allows for intuitive yet secure management of passwords across devices. While password managers like LastPass, 1Password, Enpass, and Keypass are increasingly being recommended for Linux and Microsoft users, the KeyChain protocol is built into the Operating System itself, lending it a great deal of reliability and security. Like any other password manager, KeyChain generates complicated, virtually impossible-to-hack passwords for different accounts – all accessible by a long (usually >30 character) master password set by the owner.

The best Safari extensions

  • Adblock Plus:
    Though Safari 9 and later editions have inbuilt ad-blockers, more thorough control and blocking of ads can be achieved with Adblock Plus. With its simple, easy-to-use interface and superb efficiency, get this extension for an annoyance-free browsing experience.
Apple Safari
Adblock Plus – a must-have!
  • Tab Options:
    Safari, unfortunately, offers only limited control with tabs. Tab Options is a neat extension that makes up for this. It allows users to assign hotkeys to certain tab-switching, opening and closing actions, and lots more.
  • Turn Off The Lights:
    A must-have for regular YouTubers, TOTL is a classic extension to enhance your video watching experience. Quite simply, it’s a button that dims the entire screen except for a video that might be playing on the active tab. Helps eliminate distractions and provide a theatre-like experience on the beautiful Mac screen.
  • ClickToPlugin:
    Plugins on websites can be quite annoying. They can range from being spam or advertisements to dangerous Flash embedded code. ClickToPlugin is a cool extension that blocks absolutely all plugin content until it is clicked on. Fret not, you can customise a whitelist for your trusted sites!
  • F.B Purity:
    Available now for all major browsers, this magical extension helps unclutter your Facebook feed. It gets rid of all sorts of things – ads, game posts, sponsored posts and lots more (as per your choosing, of course).
  • NoMoreiTunes:
    A common annoyance for iMac users is how iTunes keeps opening when an App Store link is clicked. Sometimes, we just want to browse through the features without getting shown the payment page! NoMoreiTunes ensures that the link remains in the web browser as a preview.
  • Shut Up:
    Sick of getting triggered by ridiculous comments on sites you don’t even use that often? Shut Up is a simple button-based extension that modifies the CSS to get rid of comments sections wherever you choose. It has the cool option of site-specific memory – so you can block entire swathes of annoying commenters on your alternative source of news!

The cons – things that make you go tut-tut

Saving the worst for last, here are some issues that a Safari user may, unfortunately, have to face.

Apple Safari
Safari isn’t always the smartest browser of the bunch

For starters, anybody who is deeper entrenched into the Google ecosystem (Gmail, Google Drive, Hangouts, Google Docs and so on) is almost certainly better off using Chrome. Chrome integrates exceedingly well with all Google-based services. Safari’s major advantage is only in terms of its beautiful and convenient interfacing with the Apple suite of software.

Similarly, extension aficionados may find that their friends who use Google Chrome have a far, far greater variety of quirky, interesting, and sometimes even useful extensions to pick from. Extensions that may never even reach the Safari web extensions list. Apple’s pickiness about its developers tends to limit personal freedom on a web-browser in this sense.

All in all, as far as speed and performance go, Safari fares decently, but Chrome is almost universally regarded as the winner. While Safari may be able to pick and choose its victories, Chrome typically takes the bulk of the prizes, and Safari users may just find themselves having to make that dreaded choice – Apple or Google?


This article was first published in the August 2017 issue of Fast Track on Digit magazine. To read Digit’s articles first, subscribe here or download the Digit app for Android and iOS. You could also buy Digit’s previous issues here.

Aabir Abubaker