The Safari Browser Refreshes Tab Design

Apple’s newly redesigned Safari web browser is now available, so I’ve been trying out the refreshed “tabs”, among other things, on my iPad. While still adjusting to the updated design, I’m loving the changes so far.


Tab Trials

These aren’t the tabs you’re looking for.

When iOS and iPadOS 15 were undergoing beta testing during this past Summer, early reviews made Safari’s compact tab layout seem dire. After a few iterations, the public version of Safari landed. I wondered how bad the tabs really were and wanted to try them myself, so once my devices were updated with the new release, I set Safari on my iPad to the Compact Tab Bar. I didn’t do this because my 10.2” screen real estate was insufferable; I was simply curious to use the renewed Safari tabs as Apple had initially envisioned for the update. Being optimistic, I figured Apple’s intended tab redesign was good.

I wanted to think different.

Looking at the new ”tabs”, I realized they’re really the same as the URL address bar, just more narrow while more tabs are open. So I thought, I’m looking at web pages, not tabs. To explain better, here’s an excerpt from an article titled, ”Safari 15 isn’t bad, just misunderstood”:

“The tabs are the address bars of other pages you have open. You’re not switching tabs, you’re switching pages. This is also why the title bar and toolbar take on the same background color as the page you’re on. The entire Safari window is the page. When you switch from one page to another, it all changes to match the new page.“

Jeff Kirvin
Safari settings. Compact Tab Bar, please.

Thinking Differently

It’s only been a week, but I don’t think the compact tab design is merely a novelty; I genuinely like the radical tabs, though some reviewers still don’t. On the plus side, it’s good that Apple has provided options in Settings, letting users choose their preferred tab style. I turned on Compact tabs — I call them tab capsules — which combine a tab’s button with the URL bar; the “Omnibar” is really living up to its name. I also enabled “Show Color in Tab Bar.”

Visually, tabs have soft rounded corners, and the tab bar suggests minimal elegance. The active tab is darkened or lightened, making it easy to identify. With multiple tabs open, although the website name is truncated due to narrow width tabs, I haven’t had trouble knowing which tab I’m on or which one to switch to. Each tab has a colored Favicon, and part of the URL title is visible most of the time. These show enough to know where in the world wide web I am — with one exception, using iPad in Portrait mode with more than a handful of tabs open. To help, a simple pinch-in gesture shrinks the current tab to reveal all open websites in a tabs overview page, which shows each web page’s content and name. It’s easy to switch tabs there.

Tabs overview page in a grid.

Functionally, the tabs work well enough. Because the URL bar and tab are now combined, some previously exposed buttons hide in an overflow menu — the ellipsis /three dot button. When accessing a button, an ideal design minimizes extra gestures or taps to save time and be efficient. But an extra tap or two isn’t that big of a deal; the iPad remains a wonderful modern touch-based computer, easily accessible and user friendly. So despite a few functions living behind the ellipsis button, the Safari redesign remains nice to use.

Whimsy Works

The new compact tab bar also presents something special Apple has been known for: whimsy. The company’s software designs have sometimes been called whimsical, featuring fun things like animations. In that light, the tab capsules are delightful to swipe back and forth as they tug on the rubber-banding animation and bump into each other.

Another cool feature of Safari’s refreshed tool bar is simply color; it will now match the main color of the website being visited. This appealing aesthetic blends the tab bar with the website better, making it look and feel more native to the particular site. This color-matching complements the web page rather than contrasting from it. I like the holistic look, and although the tool bar and tabs change color, I don’t lose my location or wonder where the tabs are.

Below are several examples of websites showcasing the color-matching of Safari’s new tool bar. In particular, notice how the Six Colors site, with its constantly changing color gradient, is rendered. Safari matches the color in real-time, as it is changing, and automatically adjusts the font color from white to black and back again. It also subtly applies a lighter or darker active tab fill-color so that the text stays legible.

Six Colors with white text.
Six Colors with white text.
Six Colors with white text.
Six Colors with black text.
Six Colors with black text.
Six Colors with black text.
Starbucks
Target
Nintendo Life
Wikipedia
Psychology Today
Apple
Amazon

Overall, the new compact tab bar is great. It’s not perfect — tabs get a bit too cramped in portrait mode — but Apple did a good job in its design and implementation, thinking through different points. I even like the new pull-down-to-reload gesture to refresh the web page.

The change that I’m still adjusting to is Tab Groups. I had looked forward to the new Tab Groups feature above all, and I’m glad to have them. They change the way I surf the web, and while they add a bit of complexity to Safari, the trade-off is worth it because grouping tabs together and switching between them as needed reduces the bulk of tabs open in the compact tab bar. This improves visual and mental clarity for better focus on the current web task. More clarity yet mild complexity is a fair enough deal.

Finally, I’m also enjoying Safari’s other new features like the new Start Page that is customizable. I also plan to try Extensions, which are new to Safari; I’ve got my eye on Grammarly.

So what are your thoughts about the new Safari tab design? Do you go compact or separate? Color-matching or not? And do Tab Groups help or hurt your web surfing?

UPDATE: Credit to John Gruber at Daring Fireball for surfacing the article by Jeff Kirvin.

About Apple’s California Streaming

This week was the ”Superbowl for nerds.” Apple held its annual September event where it showcased the newest iPhones to debut in Autumn. This year sees iPhones 13, which are incrementally better than last year’s iPhones 12. With them, Apple is releasing updated iPads and the latest Apple Watch iteration.

I viewed Apple’s live video announcement — California Streaming — a fast-paced deluge of features packed into a superlative-laden presentation. Don’t get me wrong here, I’m more or less an Apple Fanboy, but it felt a bit like drinking kool-aid with too much sugar. With that small gripe out of the way, here are my personal thoughts as a mobile-computer consumer.


iPad mini

Apple_iPad-mini_ipados-homescreen_09142021

Going from 7.9” to 8.3”, the mini has more screen, yet it remains mini! That’s a solid win in my book. I think most people want as much display as they can comfortably fit in a pocket or hold in one hand. Apple does this via removing bezels and extending the display to the edges of the device. Samsung’s approach is to fold the screen in half! I think I prefer Apple’s method: it’s simpler, more elegant, more affordable, and less likely to break.

The iPad mini basically got all of the iPad Air’s features, but it also got a $100 price hike over the previous mini, which is a bummer. I was thinking about buying my wife her own iPad mini for Christmas, but now it’s more out of reach. Then again, it comes in my wife’s favorite color: purple.

iPad

Apple_iPad-10-2-inch_Family_09142021

I love the iPad! As I type this blog post, I’m enjoying my 8th gen iPad, which I bought in the Summer. I had figured the 9th gen iPad would not get a significant upgrade, and that’s basically what happened. This newest iPad got 3 updates: a wider front camera that follows people to keep them in frame (Center Stage), the A13 chip to replace the great A12, and a True Tone display that, in my experience, is nice but not a big deal.

The one other update that is worth shouting about is that Apple finally bumped the entry priced $329 iPad from a paltry 32GB of storage to 64GB! For that low price, often on sale for $300, I think anyone can now enjoy a viable and enviable Apple tablet. In addition, the $429 iPad now packs a generous 256GB of storage — nice!

iPhone 13/mini/Pro/Pro Max

Apple_iPhone-13-Pro_Colors_09142021
Apple_iphone13_design_09142021

There’s isn’t much for me to say here except that, like most people, the latest iPhones’ camera improvements are more than welcome. I especially am excited about the iPhone 13 Pros getting a Macro photography capability, preferring both the ultra-wide and macro features over the zoom/telephoto features. In addition, the newest iPhones 13 get better performance (not that they were lacking) and longer lasting battery life — what good is all that CPU power if the phone has no battery power at all?

With new phones, I like that the previous few years’ iPhones, which are still excellent devices, now sport a lower price than ever. Those now “older” phones — still for sale as new — make some of the best tech from Apple available to more and more people. Upgrading my iPhone 8 Plus, for example, to last year’s iPhone 12 versus the 13 would save me $100, yet I’d still get a significant update.

Apple Watch 7

Apple_watch-series7_lineup-01_09142021

When it comes to the Apple Watch, I see two sides to it: the fitness side and the smart side. This year’s version 7 does not see much new for either side. Yet while some pundits have panned this year’s Watch as a minor update, I was quite excited for it. Sure, it’s not a huge step up, but it’s better nonetheless. What matters to me is that when I eventually upgrade my current 40mm Apple Watch SE, I’ll see an even bigger display boost when I opt for the now larger 45mm size. Otherwise, I think it performs like my current watch, but it’s vast screen will make using it easier and more enjoyable.

Another welcome change will be the always-on display that’s now much brighter; I presume it doesn’t degrade battery life. Most surprising of all, though, is the new on-screen keyboard! I’m skeptical that it will work well. I suspect the bigger watch size will be easier to tap the tiny letters on. Even without a keyboard, I find voice dictation totally reliable, but it will be nice to try the keyboard once I upgrade in the distant future.


Overall, this year sees Apple making incremental and iterative updates. The biggest changes come to the smallest iPad: the mini. While this might not be an exciting and “revolutionary” upgrade cycle, the progress Apple is making by pushing forward in smallish steps is nevertheless welcome and positive gain. Growth in life only sees spurts during adolescence. Generally, life grows by slow and steady consistency. Apple is a mature company, and all the hardware products announced this week are likewise mature.

The other side of Apple’s coin is more interesting to me this year: software. Next week, Apple will release the public versions of its latest operating systems. I’m eager to install the newest iOS and iPadOS software. Many of the features, like focus modes or multitasking buttons, will make current devices more capable or efficient. Shiny new hardware is fun and functional, but the integrated software is also key to giving nerds, geeks, and ”normal” people the tools they need to apply their talents.

Whether being productive and creative, organizing photo albums, or surfing the web, I’m glad to see Apple steadily improving both its devices and apps that make such tasks simple, elegant, and delightful. Here’s to another year of Apple gear.

Windows 11 With A Future View

Earlier this Summer, Microsoft announced something new and upcoming. The age old Windows platform will see yet another release, taking things from 10 to Windows 11. The operating system will be refreshed, becoming more modern than ever, which should help the legacy platform shed years of old weight. Hopefully, Microsoft pushes the OS forward and doesn’t look back; Windows with a view of the future is something to look forward to.

Start to Relaunch

New aspects of Windows 11 suggest a positive march of progress. One is an overhauled visual design where common elements look renewed with soft rounded corners, and the overall clean and light user interface is said to invoke a sense of calm. Icons are updated and more consistent, and some are moved to a surprising new layout for Windows — the Start button is no longer bottom-left, it’s now center justified with other icons pinned to the taskbar. This tectonic shift is a departure from over a quarter-century of classic Windows design dating back to 1995, yet it shouldn’t surprise anyone since competing systems have commonly centered apps and icons. Apple’s Macs place the Dock in the middle and Google’s Chromebooks also have a centered app taskbar. Likewise, this symmetry appears to imbue Windows 11 with a sense of balance along with its calm vibe.

Microsoft’s Windows 10 isn’t a dusty OS, but it does have a few cobwebs in various corners of the system — this week I encountered old Windows XP icons in an obscure system info pane. The Start menu also shows signs of the past with Live Tiles leftover from the defunct Windows 8 and Windows Phone era. While users must adjust to the repositioned Start button and menu, they will likely appreciate the robust revamp otherwise. Windows 11’s fresh flourishes and aesthetic advances appear to be an improvement overall.

Another modernization coming in Windows 11 will ensure the OS fits the mobile computing age by simplifying the system and opening its Store to various app technologies. It appears that old legacy dialogue boxes and outdated window panes, which have remained disparate thus far, will be removed and their contents or functions reconsolidated. For example, the Settings app, along with a slick coat of paint, is being renovated by bringing in features that were scattered to and fro before. System level resources and toggles look to be more accessible as well. The previous window snapping feature is more robust, yet simple, with Snap Layouts, which enables multiple window arrangements automatically. Also in keeping with the times, new Widgets will be available in Windows 11 for easy and organized at-a-glance info.

In addition, the Microsoft Store, not known for providing either a quality or quantity of apps, looks to improve as well. Instead of Microsoft going back and forth between different strategies or types of app technologies, the company is now positioning the Microsoft Store as the Amazon of Apps, which means if a user needs an app, the Microsoft store should be the place to get it, assuming developers are fully onboard. With good marketing and luck, the new saying for users in search of an app could be, “There’s an App Store for that.” The Microsoft Store will allow all types of apps from all developers: from legacy or classic desktop apps to progressive web apps to Android apps via the Amazon App store. In that regard, Microsoft is making Windows 11 all-inclusive — no digital discrimination. Apple is welcome to port iMessage over. This will be not only a boon to users, but it’s likely to appease or avoid anticompetitive regulation.

A Windows of Opportunity

Shiny new tech, especially when it comes to mobile computing, is exciting. When Windows 11 software was announced, though, I wasn’t too thrilled because all its modern advancements come at a cost: it will require current hardware technology to power its performance. That means my creaky old budget laptop and my wife’s ancient desktop are ineligible to receive the upcoming OS upgrade. I didn’t mind much, though, since we largely rely on Chromebooks and Apple devices; there’s something to be said about not putting all your eggs in one computer basket.

Something new suddenly happened though. With my kids taking a new computer class in the Fall semester, they are required to have a Windows or Mac laptop. So, long story short, my family ended up buying a brand new Windows gaming laptop. It’s the best PC I’ve ever owned, having a discreet Nvidia RTX GPU! It’s the new family PC at home that will also serve my kids’ needs at school. Okay, it’s basically my own new personal laptop too. And because it is so modern and powerful, it will get the Windows 11 upgrade when it releases later this year. In fact, one of my purchasing factors was the laptop feature listing of Windows 11 capability. In other words, this thing is future proof.

Now that I have a dynamo of a PC that’s Windows 11 ready, I’ll be previewing the impending OS with eager eyes. I won’t go so far as installing a public beta though. Meanwhile, my family and I will enjoy using the latest that Windows 10 offers, but I’m not getting too attached because I recently switched from using my Chromebook to using an iPad as my primary machine…and that’s for a future blog post.

Are you looking forward to Windows 11, or does the prospect of change give you bad vibes? Let me know in the comments.

Apple Watch And AirPods Still Delightful

The tech we rely on everyday is sometimes a delight and other times a disaster. When it works how it should, all’s well. When it doesn’t, “&$!#%.” Given the complexity of a computer, it’s kind of a miracle it works at all. And with computer chips in everything these days, no one escapes both the benefits and detriments of digital devices. That said, I’m here to talk about how much I’m still lovin’ my Apple Watch and AirPods after 6 months of usage. To this day, they remain surprisingly delightful.


AirPods

Let’s start with the AirPods. These little white ear candies are excellent. Their case is small and ergonomic, so it fits my pocket, ensuring I can always pop my portable audio plugs into my ears at any moment. Fancy that song stuck in my head? Just AirPods and play. Ready to catch up on that Podcast? Instant gratification on the go. Also, the AirPods themselves being small means they never obstruct my sunglasses or my hat. It’s little things like that which add up to satisfaction.

It gets better. My AirPods do double-duty since they instantly connect with either my iPhone or my Apple Watch. When I go for a run, I leave my phone behind and play audio straight from my watch to my AirPods. Look, I know this will sound “sound-bitey,”, but Apple isn’t lying when they say they’re magical. The tech wizardry at work really does work. In 6 months of exercise, my AirPods have been extremely reliable. Of course, I also wear them while at work, around the house, and even while driving.

AirPods have the instant Siri summoning feature that, while I don’t depend on it regularly, when I do think to use it, the response is quick and accurate. Frankly, it still feels like a tech demo sometimes because of how easy it is to use. But what I love most is how simply and easily I can have instant audio always at the ready. Oh, and because AirPods mean wireless audio, the convenience is worth their retail price.

Apple Watch

Next, Apple Watch. This thing is — avoiding the “life-saver” hyperbole — fantastic. When I bought the watch last Christmas, I intended on using it to help me get back into shape and stay fit. It’s working! I recently fulfilled my first 180 days of using Apple Watch, so I can now finally see my fitness activity trends. After 6 months of exercise, my cardio level is improved. I can see it in the data metrics thanks to the Fitness and Health apps, but I can also feel it. I can run farther, faster, and easier than before. The watch has been super reliable at recording all my fitness activities: standing, moving, exercising. It’s great at motivating and reminding me to cease and desist from a sedentary lifestyle. Seriously, it feels great after a 2 hour video game session to put on my running shoes and get moving outside.

Besides fitness, I have enjoyed my Apple Watch for all its computery capabilities too. In addition to instantly glancing down at the time, I also check the current temperature and wind speed at any moment (which helps me exercise outside at the best time). It has many of these types of nifty features I savvy. Yet the two biggest things I’ve loved using for the past 6 months are Notifications and Audio.

Getting notified by apps via my watch is delightfully convenient. Again, it’s this little thing plus others that, while simple, make a profound difference in daily living. The audio is a killer feature too — it’s like an iPod is strapped to my wrist. Three apps on my Apple Watch are now must haves: Music, Podcasts, and Now Playing. They all showcase direct quick controls for any audio playing, be it from my iPhone or from the Watch itself. The sounds stream straight to my AirPods…did I mention how great AirPods are?


Suffice to say, the AirPods and Apple Watch have easily become as essential to my daily digital lifestyle as my iPhone (which I’d say equals or exceeds the necessity of my work computer, a Windows PC). My other personal device is a Chromebook, and while great for what it is, I plan to usurp its dominance with an iPad in the coming weeks. Hopefully AirPods don’t get confused when switching between iPad, iPhone, and Apple Watch. Given the complexity, it wouldn’t surprise me. Then again, I’m talking about Apple’s ecosystem, so it should all just work. I’m certainly willing to give it all 6 more months.

Apple’s WWDC21 Inches iPad Forward

This week, Apple’s keynote at WWDC21 showcased a wide array of iterative and innovative software enhancements to its ecosystem of digital devices. The iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch, and Mac are all becoming better, yet there are signs of feature creep. If true, it’s unsurprising and unfortunate, but I’m excited for some of the new and improved things. Apple’s overall focus and purpose, perhaps the theme of WWDC21, is privacy; the company wants your personal data to remain private. While overall this is a good thing, my focus is iPad.


Apple announced a tall and wide stack of stuff in the opening keynote. A big question and expectation going into the keynote concerned the evolving stance of iPad. Would Apple finally remove the training wheels of restriction from iPadOS and let it ride freely as a “real computer?” Many tech geeks, like me, had waited and wondered. Answer: it depends on who you ask.

I saw promising upgrades to iPad that I’m happy for, and if it persists as more of a tablet computer and less of a “real” computer, that’s fine with me — Apple, and others, still sell real laptops and desktop machines too. The most important changes to iPad affect its multitasking system; it’s being somewhat simplified with visible buttons in addition to its invisible gestures. Users can see windowing options (they’re discoverable) via a new button and choose one with a simple tap. No longer must normal people become power users and memorize a convoluted bunch of finger gymnastics to invoke multi-window layouts.

That said, since the previous multi-tasking methods remain intact, the new button set-up, though simpler in itself, is an addition atop an already complex system of windowing on iPad. This is construed as feature creep and upsets the balance between simplicity and capability. Such imbalance introduces complexity, antithetical to iPad, which threatens to become more convoluted and less elegant. Apple continues to slowly yet steadily evolve iPad to become “more” or “better” yet keeping its position between a smartphone and a laptop. Adopting the best of both ends of the mobile computing spectrum while mitigating compromise is a tricky endeavor. Failure incurs disdain with labels for iPad like, “just a big phone” or “not a laptop replacement.” Conversely, the better Apple succeeds, the more magical iPad becomes.

iPad has other new tricks up its sleeve. Like on iPhone, one welcome change lets widgets be placed anywhere. There’s also a new bigger sized widget that makes better use of iPad’s large display, letting users see more content at a glance. How useful this is remains to be seen, but I think it will aid productivity. iPad now has the App Library too. Like its phone cousin, the auto-categorized groups of apps appear in a full screen array when a user swipes past the last homepage. The App Library can also be quickly accessed from any homepage via the Dock, which is great for easily selecting any additional app for multitasking.

Other new features coming to iPad match those new to iOS 15 for iPhone. Some faves I’m excited for are: tags with custom smart folders in the Notes app, EXIF metadata in the Photos app, live locations of family in the Find My app, and tab groups in Safari to name a few. Inexplicably, the Weather app and the Calculator app remain missing from iPad, as if to offset feature creep with feature disparity.

The popular tablet designed in California is getting incremental updates this year, which isn’t half bad, considering it’s already a fantastic computing device. Prior upgrades gave iPad full mouse and cursor control, making it more computer-like than ever. Apple’s ongoing progress with iPad while maneuvering it along the mobile computing midline is laudable. Though imperfect or slightly disappointing to some tech enthusiasts, Apple’s overall strategy is sound and admirable. I miss my iPad Air 2 and plan to buy a new iPad later this Summer.