I really want to love Safari for Mac. The integration with OS X (I’m using Mountain Lion 10.8.2) is slick, and the look and feel are in line with Apple’s design philosophy. The addition of sharing panels and iCloud tabs really makes the browser a compelling choice for me, since I have multiple Apple devices (seven at the time of this writing).
When I first moved to OS X in 2004 I used Safari moderately because coming from Windows, I wasn’t used to having a functional native browser. Mostly, though, I used Firefox because I had been using it on Windows and because it performed well on OS X. But I was never happy with it, not like I was with the rest of the OS X suite of apps. It just didn’t feel like it was part of the OS but rather like it was trying too hard to be a cheap copy. In fact, let me say now that I think browser skins, no matter the browser or OS, are a bad idea. Browsers should disappear into the background, leaving only your content. My minimal tendencies just won’t allow me to use anything that detracts from the focus of the task at hand. Incidentally, it’s for this reason that I don’t own any white iOS devices, as I think the white borders distract the eye from the content on the device. Those things aside, as a content producer, designer, and developer, I don’t like the idea of my content being upstaged by a marbled browser chrome with puppy dog icons.
Eventually, I grew tired of Firefox and switched to Safari. It’s minimal appearance and system integration appealed to me. We lived together peacefully for some time. Some time later, Google released Chrome for OS X, and I read great things about its performance and stability. I decided to try it, and it performed so well I decided to switch. Of course, there were nagging things, like the fact I couldn’t auto submit logins to my online banking website, so I couldn’t adopt it fully. But the team behind Chrome was working on an accelerated release schedule, and soon that issue, along with many others, was a thing of the past. With those stumbling blocks gone, the path was clear for me to adopt Chrome as my browser of choice on OS X. It was minimal, functional, and had great developer tools built in.
I’ve been using Chrome as my default browser for the better part of two years now, and it’s been a good relationship. But there’s always been this feeling stirring in the back of my mind. With OS X, Apple has done a great job of creating built-in apps to complete most everyday tasks out of the box. I know some people don’t like Mail or TextEdit or iTunes, but I think they’re great. Here’s a note for the Mail haters: I was in love with Sparrow until Google bought the team; now I’m afraid to commit to the product due to its uncertain future. My feelings for Safari aren’t quite as strong, but not because I don’t want them to be. In fact, I’m really happy with Safari with the exception of a few issues. For instance, sometimes Safari won’t render the background at the top of the Tumblr dashboard. It’s not a problem with Tumblr; it works fine in other browsers and the code is clean. It’s just a bug in Safari. Another example: I was viewing an article on nbcnews.com, and the page would just stop loading after the header. Again, while other browsers chewed through the page with no problem, Safari just choked.
I like Core Animation in Safari. I use the excellent 1Password to manage my passwords (if you’re not using it, you should be). Chrome and Safari both have extensions that make accessing passwords as easy as a click. For a time, those extensions were on separate development tracks with differing designs and somewhat differing functionality. However, AgileBits united the development tracks and have produced a great browser extension. There remains one subtle difference: in Safari, the extension snaps to life with the slightest bit of tasty Core Animation. Chrome can’t access Core Animation, so no gorgeous transitions or easing for them. This is, and always has been, the Apple difference: subtle details, that when combined, create a product that compels you to use it. Of course, it’s in Apple’s interests to keep APIs like Core Animation to themselves as it’s a big part of how they create their products.
What would I like to see in Safari?
- A fix for the rendering issues to put it on par with Chrome. Chrome is, as far as I’m concerned, at the top of the heap when it comes to performance and compatibility. I know there is a small contingent of Opera fans out there, and I have no quarrel with you.
- A better layout for the built-in developer tools. These tools are great and quite functional, but after using Chrome’s developer tools, I feel like I’m clicking a lot more to get the same result. I do, however, like having access from the Develop menu in Safari, so it’s possible this just takes some getting used to.
- Increased participation from the extension development community. This one’s on me. I should be contributing to the Safari extensions community as I have for Chrome. Too many projects, not enough time. Safari has some great extensions, but not nearly the catalog boasted by Chrome. Developers, we need to work together to meet this challenge.
A note on mobile browsing
It should be noted that Safari on iOS is slick. It’s the best mobile browser I’ve used. Google Chrome for iOS runs second, but distant due to some performance issues. It should be further noted that I don’t see those same issues with Chrome on my Galaxy Nexus running Jelly Bean. On the Android platform, Chrome is the best browser I’ve used, hands down.
Final thoughts and a look to the future
A few weeks ago, I bought a 15″ Retina MacBook Pro to replace the 27″ iMac as my primary machine. With this change came a clean start, and I decided to try Safari as my main browser. I’m happy to report I’ve been using Chrome less frequently, but I still see minor issues from time to time in Safari. I’m keeping track of these issues and will submit them as bug reports to Apple so they can consider fixing them in an upcoming release. By contributing these reports, I’m doing my part to help make Safari a better product for all of us. And a better Safari is all it takes for me to leave Chrome and never look back.
What are your thoughts on Safari? Talk about it below.