New iOS Safari Updates are Polarizing (But Useful)

If you follow tech news at all, you’ve likely heard rumblings about Apple’s new UI for Safari on the iPhone, iPad and Mac.

And if you’ve upgraded to iOS (or iPadOS) 15, you’ve seen it in action.

This has become one of the most controversial changes in Apple’s newest version of iOS, and while I like it (with a few exceptions), there are many who don’t.

I Want the Old Tab Bar Back!

The good news is that Apple (surprisingly) left in an option for users to get back to the “old” layout. There are a couple of ways to do it:

  • Go to Settings → Safari and scroll down to the “Tabs” section. Select the “Single Tab” option to go back to the old style.
  • In Safari, if you tap on the “aA” button, you can select “Show Top Address Bar” to return to the old style.

Why You Should Keep the New Tab Bar

While the new design is definitely different, I think it’s worth keeping it around to try it out.

Here are some of the advantages I’ve personally found with the new design:

  • You can swipe to get to different tabs. This isn’t immediately obvious at first, but swiping will move you between tabs. When you get to your newest tab, another swipe left will open up a new tab.
  • Like before, the tab bar auto-minimizes when scrolling, to show the maximum page content.
  • Having the tab bar at the bottom consolidates all the browser controls and icons in one part of the screen – and it’s easier to reach on larger phones.
  • You can easily access all your open tabs by swiping up on the tab bar.

A Word About the iPadOS 15 Safari

The iPadOS version is a little bit different.

This version of Safari includes an option for a “compact” tab bar that causes more trouble than it’s worth (in my opinion). It may save a little bit of vertical space, but it sacrifices quite a bit of at-a-glance useability to do it. I wouldn’t even bother with it.

The standard “default” iPadOS Tab Bar is okay – it seems like they focused on getting the phone design more polished than the larger tablet design. However, it seems like they are (slowly) redesigning the iPad version of Safari to be a “mini” version of desktop Safari, rather than a “blown-up” version of iPhone’s Safari, which will – in the long run – be a welcome improvement.

Additional Safari Upgrades

If you haven’t used Safari recently (on the Mac, iPad, or iPhone), you may want to give it another shot.

While the UI upgrades have definitely been polarizing, a couple of neat features make Safari much more useful if most or all of your devices live within the Apple ecosystem.

Tab Groups

If you consistently open the same tabs regularly, and those tabs are related in some way, you can create a “Tab Group” to more easily find these tabs in the future. Additionally, once a Tab Group is made, it’s synced to your other Apple devices, making it easy to quickly load up and browse a collection of sites.

You can create different Tab Groups, and give them relevant names to tell them apart. You can also quickly copy all the web addresses used in a Tab Group if you want to send them to a contact or copy them into another app.

I’ve used Tab Groups more than I expected. If (really when) I am doing some research into a new gadget, it’s easy to throw all those sites into a Tab Group so that I can return to them later. I also use them if I’m doing some specific task where I want to focus – I can have a Tab Group for teaching materials, writing materials, score study, etc. Since they are synced among all my devices, it’s also easy to add other sites as I find them, and they are easy to load up quickly if I only have a limited time to work.

New Start Page

There’s also a new “Start” page for iOS 15 (and iPadOS 15).

If you open up a new tab and scroll down to the bottom, you’ll see an “Edit” button. This allows you to pick the content (and its order) that is shown on the Start page. Options include:

  • Favorites
  • Recently Visited
  • Reading List
  • Siri Suggestions
  • Shared With You
  • Privacy Report
  • iCloud Tabs

You can turn any of these on or off, adjust their order, and even synchronize this start page across devices.


Browser extensions are one of the things that have made Chrome (and Firefox) so incredibly popular.

While Safari does have some extensions for Safari on Macs, the number of extensions is much lower than either Chrome (and all the Chromium-based browsers) or Firefox. With iOS (and iPadOS) 15 Safari on those devices will now be able to run 3rd-party browser extensions.

Although this feature has only been out a little while, there are already quite a few extensions showing up. Extensions for password managers, ad blockers, and extensions that add additional features (automatic dark mode, removing Google’s AMP links, etc.) have already shown up.

Many of these extensions will have access to some (or all) of your web browsing data, so be careful who you trust, and what you install.