updated 08:56 am EDT, Tue June 18, 2013
Apple gives Safari in iOS 7 more desktop-class features
While Microsoft rules the desktop browser space with IE, mobile analytics continually show that Apple dominates mobile browser usage with Safari. Like every other pre-installed app in the iOS 7 beta, Apple has given it a complete revision. It still feels familiar, but bears an all-new design and works a little differently to the way it does in iOS 6. Do the changes add or detract from what is the most popular mobile browser on the market?
The changes to Safari in iO7 are comprehensive. As with Safari for the desktop, Apple has added a unified search field to mobile Safari. If anything, taking this approach makes much more sense on a smartphone, particularly as cramming a URL field together with a search field on a 4-inch or 3.5-inch display is on the fiddly side in Safari on iOS6 and previous iterations. Apple has also cleaned up the panes in Safari in iOS 7 so that they stay hidden until a sharper scroll reveals them. A slower scroll keeps them out of view, allowing for the optimal use of the available viewing area. It looks attractive and works seamlessly, making for a much improved browsing experience.
Also transferred from Safari for the desktop to the mobile version is the ability for swipe between open webpages. As its implementation on a mobile uses touch rather than a mouse, it ends up looking very similar to the way Peek has been implemented in BlackBerry 10. That aside, it works much better than aiming for the back and forwards buttons (which continue nonetheless). Tabbed browsing has also been implemented differently in Safari for iOS 7, with a new consolidated, scrolling tab view. Although Windows Vista was lambasted for its functionality, it was pretty; likewise its Flip 3D function certainly looked better than it actually worked in practice when trying to view all open windows. In iOS 7 Apple has taken a similar approach, but has applied it to open tabs in Safari. Unsurprisingly perhaps, Apple's implementation works much better as it provides a better view of all open tabs. Borrowing from Android's Chrome, a swipe sideways will also dismiss a tab.
In terms of additional functionality, Apple has added a more intuitive tab approach when the Bookmarks button is tapped. You can access articles that you have added to the Reading List, while you can now also view all the shared links in your Twitter timeline, including who posted them and what they tweeted about it. Naturally, the Bookmarks tab is retained, which also features a cleaner look. Other new touches include iCloud Keychain, which greatly improves the browsing experience by using 256-bit AES encryption to store usernames, passwords and credit card numbers. These will sync with OS X Mavericks. Safari for iOS 7 now also includes Password Generator that will create a unique and complex password, but will also store and automatically fill the field when the page is visited.
Safari for iOS 7 has been effectively rebuilt from the ground up. Like the iOS 7 operating system itself, Safari has been given a facelift. However, Apple has not stopped there, rethinking how a mobile browser can be full optimized for a smartphone. It makes browsing on the iPhone a much improved user experience and is simply a pleasure to use. The addition of the iCloud Keychain and Password Generator might not be sexy, but they help to make the mobile browsing experience on the iPhone as complete as it is on the desktop.
By Sanjiv Sathiah