I don’t even know where to start. First I was skeptical. Then I was hopeful. I was warned. I let my MacBook Pro update anyway. And now I have to live with it: Safari 15.
For those unaware, Apple unveiled an entire overhaul to Safari back in June during their developers conference. I talked about how drastic this was on the iPhone because with each beta update, Apple seemed to walk back the changes. When iOS 15 launched a few weeks ago, the only real changes to Safari were these three: the address bar was at the bottom, you could now switch between tabs by swiping horizontally, and the view of all open tabs changed to a grid layout instead of a rolodex-style. Great. I like it and it’s a huge improvement from whatever the hell was in their minds in June. Common sense prevailed.
But if you’re a Mac user, Safari 15 is here. Your Mac WILL auto-update because that’s what we’re conditioned to do. And when it opens for the first time, you’ll be jarred by what the tabs and top of the browser look like. Tabs are now buttons. The ‘chrome’ that lives at the top of the window will now take on the color of the active page. If you have two tabs open, it’s coin-flip to tell which tab is the active one. If you have pinned tabs, they do not appear with the new Grouped Tabs functionality. Hell, you can’t even add any pinned tabs when you’re in a tab group. That one really hurts because I want quick access to certain tabs REGARDLESS of the tab group I’m in.
I can sum this up in three words: it’s a mess.
John Gruber at DaringFireball has RAILED against this change. And while some can accuse him of being an Apple fanboy, his arguments against these changes ring true:
From a usability perspective, every single thing about Safari 15’s tabs is a regression. Everything. It’s a tab design that can only please users who do not use tabs heavily; whereas the old tab design scaled gracefully from “I only open a few tabs at a time” all the way to “I have hundreds of tabs open across multiple windows”. That’s a disgrace. The Safari team literally invented the standard for how tabs work on MacOS.
Gruber’s thoughts and countless examples of Safari’s good design are a bit long, but I cannot get over how accurate he is. A user interface change should make sense or achieve something new that couldn’t be done before. Change for change’s sake achieves stands on a single reason: because we felt like it. Safari is my most-used application on my Mac. While I am not about to switch to Firefox as my default browser, these changes make it that more tempting. Firefox is lean, has support for every extension I use, and doesn’t give Google a foothold on my computer like Chrome does. If Safari didn’t exist, Firefox would be my go-to browser. Mozilla has knocked it out of the park for years.
History shows that Apple does listen to its customers. Apple has rolled back features in the past. iOS 13 removed the Camera Roll function from Photos. Enough people sent feedback where Apple put it back in.
I’m sending my feedback to Apple today. If they want to keep this disaster, that’s fine. But make everything optional. Give me a “Legacy View” and call it a day. If someone likes the new design, then turn it on via Safari’s Preferences and call it a day. I like a lot of what Apple does, but this is a whiff of epic proportions.