Apple’s Safari: Lingers on as Second-Rate Browser

| Hidden Dimensions

“I can make more generals, but horses cost money.” — Abraham Lincoln

An essential part of our modern life is to browse the Internet, and the single most important tool for that is the Internet browser. However the Internet can be a dangerous place, and so we want the very best browser. Regrettably, the largest, most successful company in the world, Apple, has flubbed with Safari. What’s with that?

Apple has continuously improved Safari over the years. Its improvements to Webkit and Javascript execution have steadily improved. Version 5.1 added the much needed sandboxing for better security, but only for the OS X version. And yet, Safari has failed to gain customer traction while the glitzy Chrome from Google has continued its stellar ascendance. The numbers show it.

Is Apple going to settle for this?

Apple may have been able to rationalize that Safari, primarily focused on Apple customers, would never achieve a large market share because the Mac only has about 10 percent of it. But whoa. The reason Apple ported Safari to Windows was to show the PC world what a better life could be like using Apple products.

That hasn’t worked out. Instead, Google has stolen the hearts of PC and Mac users, even carving a chunk out of MS Internet Explorer and Firefox. Clearly Google is doing something right and Apple is, well, limping along with Safari.

Worse, Apple seems to have shot itself in the foot with Safari 5.1. It was an innocent enough upgrade, adding the Reading List, which got everyone wound up, some enhanced privacy settings, and the ability to drag items out of the downloads window. However, it also introduced some troublesome issues, notably a tendency to update the main window without a user request. I’ve seen an unusually large number of reader complaints, forum discussions, and even some of the TMO staff has been complaining. (I’ve personally switched to Firefox because I’ve come to the conclusion that an independent group like Mozilla, with no OS axe to grind, is in a better position to cater to customers.)

The chart below, derived from data collected by Stat Counter documents the customer reaction. Safari started a downward arc when version 5.1 was released. For Apple, growth and success is everything. Not here.

Safari Inflection point

Safari 5.1 Inflection Point (U.S. data, all platforms)

Looking at the small picture, many users are using Safari and are not having very many problems. PC Magazine liked it well enough back in July, but also noted that it isn’t a speed demon on Windows and concluded: “but our Editors’ Choice, Google Chrome, delivers a faster, cleaner browsing experience, has more HTML5 support, and offers sandboxed security on Windows.”

The Big Picture

Apple has let an enormous opportunity slip by. This tremendously successful company, worth more than any company on the planet, raking in US$100B a year, and famous for its ability to create user delight has been unable to conjure up the imagination, technical wizardry, design excellence and customer understanding necessary to climb the charts in the browser world. Mozilla’s Firefox has embarrassed Apple with better security focus, more rapid development, and keener customer focus. Google’s Chrome is faster, cleaner, more secure on Windows. While PC Magazine’s review, linked above, showed Safari to be pretty, uses Lion gestures, and utilizes “Cover flow and other beautiful interface elements,” it left readers flat, and they scored it only fair.

Oh, that Eternal Agenda

Part of the problem may be that Safari is loaded down with too much Apple agenda. It’s a showcase for all that’s Apple, and that means beauty, simplicity, OS integration and a happy-go-lucky web browsing experience — to make customers feel comfortable and happy with its products.

Some of that philosophy was revealed when Apple dumbed down the cookie display in version 5.1.

Modern users, especially all those switchers that Apple keeps talking about during the earnings calls, aren’t stupid. They know that the Internet is useful, but it’s also a dangerous place. They need to be able to do their banking and purchases with confidence and security. They want their browser to be the best on the planet, the fastest, most secure, most stable. They couldn’t care less less about Apple, say, forcing a Lion gesture down their throats.

The upshot is that Apple’s Safari is, today, a poor reflection on the traditional values of Apple. Here’s a company that lives and breathes excellence and customer satisfaction. And yet, one of the most important products they can deliver is, in my opinion, now second rate. Evidence for that surfaced recently when Glenn Fleishman documented how Safari 5.1 has an unfortunate glitch in certificate management.

How long will Apple suffer this indignity? How long will it take for Apple to decide that second best isn’t good enough? When will Apple get tired of Google kicking them around? The trends in the chart above tell the story. The customers have spoken. They want the best browser on the planet, and Apple isn’t delivering it.

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48 Comments Leave Your Own

geoduck

Agreed. Safari is looking like a late ‘70’s Thunderbird. Lots of fancy gewgaws on it but the basic machine is flawed and needs a redesign. Personally ReadingList and CoverFlow and that annoying top sites thing are gadgets I never use. I want a simple browser that will load pages fast and securely.

I ‘ve tried each version of ThunderBird that’s come out this year. Sure it’s more secure and there are lots of extensions you can install. However I keep running into annoyances that keep me from switching. For example, each morning I open my MacBook and Safari. I have a Folder of my morning sites. Actually the sites are organized into sub folders within the main folder. Until the last revision FF would only open the top tier of sites. It ignored any folders within folders. This seems to be fixed in the latest version that came out last week. The other problem though has not. This same folder that opens all sites in separate tabs in <30 seconds on Safari takes 5 to 10 minutes on FireFox. In addition while Safari will let me look at the first pages while the last ones are still loading, FF does not seem to draw any of them until they ALL have been loaded. This is unacceptable.

As far as Chrome, Sure it’s fast but I’ve read too many places that it talks to the mothership far more than any other browser. Because Google makes its money off of selling my browsing habits, I just don’t trust what they might be doing with this information.

So I’m still on Safari.

John Martellaro

geoduck:  I have the same feelings about Chrome. All that doesn’t seem to worry users, but then nether does Facebook.

Ross Edwards

Agreed with the anxiety about Google selling my browsing habits… that has kept me off of Chrome and has moved me away from other Google products little by little (but not yet Gmail, alas).

Safari, for all its flaws, plays really nicely in secured connections right now, and handles things like postal labeling better than any other browser.  I use Safari when I’m banking or doing something where security or a specific interface matters.

Firefox is most-of-the-way secure and a little less compatible with various web offerings, and that makes it the perfect tool for day-to-day browsing on casual things that I don’t care about.

jbruni
andrew s

I use safari 98% of the time. Never had a security issue,  don’t think its too slow, and MUCH prefer its UI to anything else. In the rare case some shitty flash site doesn’t cooperate with safari I use Firefox. Chrome and firefoxes UIs look like shit and any visually well done site suffers.

Safari is not second rate, and for someone who’s been online since Prodigy I think its still the best overall.

dmonder

IMO the real question here should be “Why does Safari exist for Windows”?

Apple needs their own browser without question; it’s a core competency, and it’d be pretty embarrassing to rely on a third-party browser as the default install on Apple hardware.  BUT… an Apple browser for Windows?  Unless the experience is blow-me-away better than ANY other Windows browser, why help out the enemy?

John Harlow

Safari 5.1 has been the least stable, least satisfactory version I’ve ever used on any of my Macs. Its long, unexplainable pauses coupled with its unbelievable memory use are indefensible.

Why has Chrome, which is based on webkit been able to implement tabs as separate processes while Safari (also webkit) not been able to. I use tabs a lot and its not unusual to see Safari getting slower and slower and using up several gigabytes of memory. In Chrome when I close a tab I free up the memory that it used and if it had problems those are also gone.

I’ve been resisting moving my browsing from Safari to Chrome, but its getting harder and harder to stick with Safari.

Gareth Harris

The only reason why I use Safari instead of Chrome is the reader function. When all I want is the content of a page instead of all the clutter, it makes reading easier. [and makes the font bigger] Otherwise, Chrome is much faster, even snappy.

I did have to add a hack to Chrome to automatically select a new tab to receive the focus.

Algae

That chart shows me Chrome stealing share away from IE and Firefox. It doesn’t really support your argument. Also, what opportunity for Apple? Apple doesn’t make money from Safari, but as long as they ship it, they give Firefox and Chrome a target to beat. It’s a safety net, for Apple, not intended to drive people to buy Apple products, but intended to make sure OS X users don’t get left with out options.

DudeMac

Safari has definitely went down hill in some ways.  I also think that Apple does a very poor job of representing the Windows user experience with Safari because it tries to treat it like a Mac.  Though IE is my least favorite browser, I can admit that IE for Mac (Mac OS 9 and earlier) made a Mac user feel at home and Microsoft didn’t try to shove the Windows user experience on Mac users (for the most part).  Safari needs WAY better memory management and so on if it wants to compete with the other web browsers on the market.  And Apple, please don’t let Microsoft win ‘the most HTML5 standard’ browser crown for IE; that would be embarrassing to let Microsoft catch up and pass us in the web standards race of champions.

archimedes

I really used to like Safari until its performance dropped through the floor with Safari 5.

I don’t know what’s wrong with it - probably related to DNS prefetching and other changes - but it makes Firefox seem fast, and that’s saying a lot. For example, I just now tested opening the same 9 tabs (using “Open All in Tabs” in Firefox and “Open in Tabs” in Safari) - Firefox 6.0 opened them in 35 seconds, but Safari 5.1 took 122 seconds!

This is embarrassingly poor performance. Apple, please get your act together and fix Safari!

John Martellaro

Algae: the chart shows market share of IE, Firefox *AND* Safari declining. While Chrome is rising.  The chart most certainly does support my argument.

xmattingly

Safari 5.1 has been the least stable, least satisfactory version I?ve ever used on any of my Macs. Its long, unexplainable pauses coupled with its unbelievable memory use are indefensible.

John H. is right on. Safari 5.1 for the first time in its history (I’ve been using it since 1.0), feels kludgy. It’s a RAM whore. It often has to reload a page when you switch tabs. It has limited customization of the toolbar, none at all available for the bookmarks bar (beyond managing bookmarks), and in my opinion from a UI perspective - that stupid “reload button in the address bar” as of v.4 (if I remember right). Tacked on whether-you-like-it-or-not new features are increasingly looking like a stupid wasted of resources. I never use the Cover Flow or Top Sites functions, and without a way to download articles for later consumption, the new Reading List is basically worthless.

Not only that, Apple is starting to screw up its built-in development tools in several ways, particularly with the web inspector. For example, if you drag an image from the web inspector to your desktop, now it renames the file as “downloaded file” in OS 10.5, and “unknown” in 10.6 for some reason. You can’t even find Flash files in the resources list in Safari for 10.5; the only way to access them is with the activity window. How Apple could make Safari so weirdly inconsistent just between different Mac OS versions completely baffles me.

So from my point of view, due to increased kludginess, force-fed features, monstrous use of resources and devolving their developer tools, it really looks like Apple Safari is losing on all counts. I’m not ready to switch browsers just yet, but I’m certainly discouraged.

Bosco (Brad Hutchings)

@geoduck: If it’s any assurance, I use Chrome and numerous Google services, and if they’re making money off of my browsing habits, toilet breaks, or dog walks, it hasn’t gotten in my way. These days, if you’re not taking advantage of some of the things Google is offering, you’re leaving an ess load of convenience on the table.

John, you hit the nail on the head with Apple using Safari to shove their agenda down users’ throats. It’s a shame their agenda isn’t just “best user experience, period”. Cuz that’s pretty much the agenda of Google, Mozilla, and even Microsoft. See the whole WebM v. MPEG as the start of this diversion.

geoduck

that stupid ?reload button in the address bar

I hate that. Reminds me of when Ford sold a model with the horn button on the end of the turn signal stalk “because it’s European and sporty”. I did find an extension that puts a reload button back where it belongs. I’m on my iPad right now so I can’t check to see what it is called though.

John Martellaro

xmattingly: I am currently using Firefox 7 with the extensions shown in this article:

http://www.macobserver.com/tmo/article/my_polygamous_relationship_with_browsers/

But then, I’m polygamous.

——
The reader feedback here reflects a serious problem. I hope Apple is listening.

Lancashire-Witch

I’ve noticed a marked increase in Swap file usage as a result of using Safari 5.1
So it’s painfully slow.

Bregalad

I’m still running Safari 5.0.5 as my default browser and will not touch Safari 5.1.

My second browser is Camino. I primarily use it for secure sites. I keep no bookmarks in it, use a single window/tab so there’s no chance of one site getting credentials for another, and reset at the end of each session to erase cookies/history/etc. and keep other humans from getting things like bank account numbers.

I’ll be sad when Camino is no longer modern enough to trust for secure transactions. Hopefully it can be re-born using a different rendering engine like Webkit. If it is I’ll likely want to use it as my primary browser meaning I’ll need to find another one that’s as easy to wipe clean for my important online business.

I don’t want to use Chrome because Google already knows too much about me, but I also don’t want to pollute my other browsers with the Flash plug-in. Chrome has it built in so I can still access Flash content when necessary.

The big bloated Firefox seems destined to be my default browser :\

Denis Lee

Using Safari 5.1.  Love it.

theLedger

I think what Apple is seeing is that the world wide web is like the old west and new apps and services will become the face of the Internet similar to what’s happening on the iOS devices.

For example - need ideas for eating out? It’s easier to find in an app than a broad Internet search.

It’s the same paradigm with files - instead of the Finder Apple wants you to becme more app centric than navigating through folders.

John Dingler, artist

This comment window takes too long to open. The Cookie management window is quasi-modal. Tabs reload unexpectedly. Tabs left alone for a few minutes turn blank, then take a very long time to reload. Why do I get a beach ball simply typing this? Yes, kludgy is a good description, but so is cobbled-together, improvised, laden, and inelegant.

I am thinking of reluctantly going Camino.

gimlis axe

Your comments about apple are amazingly idiotic, $100 billion dollars a year? That doesn’t even put them in the top 100 list of companys by revenue. Walmart ‘rakes in’ over $400 billion a year. Check your facts

AdamChew

I am still using Safari but then what do I know I am just a user.

AdamChew

I am still using Safari, well what do I know I am just a user and not some high horse riders.

Andy Eastham

Lots of fancy gewgaws on it but the basic machine is flawed and needs a redesign.

Doesn’t this sentence describe Apple in its entireity?

rd68k

I am user of Safari since v1.0.

Safari is my main browser with backup, once a week, of Firefox.

Safari is most optimized browser on Mac OSX, my main OS. I like its speed, simplicity and compactness, WWW-conformity, OS integration. Never had any significant problems, regularly “empty Cache…”.

Since I converted several Windows friends form IE/FF to Safari, they immediately stopped ask me for a help/support because of computer viruses/trojans/slowness and browser bloatware/strange_bars/etc…

Ralph Wiggum

APPLE SUCKS BALLS, YO!

dhp

Your comments about apple are amazingly idiotic, $100 billion dollars a year? That doesn?t even put them in the top 100 list of companys by revenue. Walmart ?rakes in? over $400 billion a year. Check your facts

Check your reading comprehension. He didn’t say Apple had the highest revenue of any company. He said it’s “worth more than any company on the planet”; i.e. it has the highest market capitalization (stock price x number of shares), which is $362 billion versus Walmart’s $179 billion.

gimlis axe

Check your reading comprehension. He didn?t say Apple had the highest revenue of any company. He said it?s ?worth more than any company on the planet?; i.e. it has the highest market capitalization (stock price x number of shares), which is $362 billion versus Walmart?s $179 billion.

He says ‘Regrettably, the largest, most successful company in the world, Apple, has flubbed with Safari. What?s with that?’

They are not the largest, nor are the the most succesfull. Their revenue is off the top 100 and they’re below Microsoft and IBM in terms of profit.

Share price is meaningless.

gimlis axe

Also, Saudi Aramco value is estimated from $781 billion (not a public company granted but still 12 times the value of Apple)

According to the financial times, Apple are the 3rd largest in terms of market capitalization, so even if he meant that: he was wrong.

xmattingly

I did find an extension that puts a reload button back where it belongs.

I know what you’re talking about, geo. There may be more than one out there, but the one I tried does add a normal reload button, but does not alter the address bar (by removing its built-in button).

xmattingly

xmattingly: I am currently using Firefox 7 with the extensions shown in this article:

http://www.macobserver.com/tmo/article/my_polygamous_relationship_with_browsers/

But then, I?m polygamous.

Thanks for pointing to that article, John - I forgot about that. At the time I think I was noticing some quirks with the update, but hadn’t really dipped into the developer tools. Apple is certainly running the risk of turning off users and developers for the Webkit platform, and by extension iOS app builders. I may be forced into polygamy myself.

Terrin

Apple in April had the largest market cap, had more revenue, and made more profit.

They are not the largest, nor are the the most succesfull. Their revenue is off the top 100 and they?re below Microsoft and IBM in terms of profit.

Share price is meaningless.

Joe J.

I think that Safari is just fine.  I don’t use it (I prefer Chrome and Camino), but it works.  The real interesting thing here, I think, is that Apple really doesn’t need to worry so much about desktop Safari:  mobile is the future, and mobile Safari is a damn fine browser.  I’ve used a few different mobile browsers, and if I had to choose just one, it would be Safari.  Android would be my second choice.  It’ll be interesting to see how Silk compares (and I also wonder if Amazon plans on bringing Silk to the desktop).

geoduck

mobile Safari is a damn fine browser

Agreed. I find that many of the same sites that have problems with regular Safari work fine with mobile Safari.

John Dingler, artist

I’m OK with Safari having gewgaws, but also those awesome whichimigigs, doodads, and whatnots, but where’s the speed and where’s the implementation of crisp code that does not thwart the operation of other code?

What

What? IE is gaining on “your” chart?

I don’t agree with your statements. Also don’t see a compelling reason for Safari to compete with any browser. We have the ability to install third party applications, if you feel the need to install one.

Google uses your Chrome browsing habits to show you adverts. IE, Safari, and Firefox doesn’t. Faster or not, I’ll pass on being sold more ads.

Nirvin M

Apple is just innovation (For Apple & it’s fans, innovation is Beauty). Nothing else. Microsoft and Google has more talent than Apple. What Microsoft need is a good CEO who loves technology. If MS get a good CEO, then it will definitely outsmart these guys.

John Harlow

Apple is just innovation (For Apple & it?s fans, innovation is Beauty). Nothing else. Microsoft and Google has more talent than Apple.

Microsoft may (and I stress may) have more talent than Apple, but they are basically a marketing company, not an innovator or a creator of technology. Their model is to buy (SQL Server, DOS, Visio, Terminal Services, etc..) or knock-off (Excel, Money, dotNet) existing products. Other than Bob, they’ve never really brought anything innovative or new to market. Even their development processes are weak. They’ve never really put out a version 1 of anything that was reliable and usable.

On the other hand, they are amazing at marketing. In spite of all of this and convictions in both the US and the EU, they’ve managed to position their brand as strong and desireable, particularly with naive consumers.

Nirvin M

@John Harlow: You say that MS is marketing. Then what Apple is doing? Marketing polished silver (you say it as ‘innovation’). They usually increase processor speed & screen resolution and releases successive version of iP****. Nothing else. Note that MS invented Kinnect (isn’t that innovation?). What Apple did?

John Harlow

You say that MS is marketing. Then what Apple is doing? Marketing polished silver (you say it as ?innovation?). They usually increase processor speed & screen resolution and releases successive version of iP****. Nothing else. Note that MS invented Kinnect (isn?t that innovation?). What Apple did?

Hmmm. 30+ years in business and their innovation is to come up with using a Webcam as a game controller. That’s really world changing.

Interestingly, Apple did come up with the first really usable approach to touch/tablet computing. Many had tried and failed before them and many more have failed since.

MS still doesn’t understand tablets and touch and the way people will need to interact with computers or they wouldn’t be positioning Windows 8 with the hodge podge of UIs it is slated to have.

Google has been very innovative in search but pretty much everything else that they’ve done has been purchased or derived from other people’s work. Their contributions in other areas have been very valuable but they haven’t been particularly original. Chrome for example, comes from webkit (which started in KDE and was picked up by Apple.) Android was an acquisition as were many of Google’s other services like Docs.

Google, like Apple, has been significantly better than MS in focusing talent and money towards successful outcomes.

To claim a multi-billion dollar company is more innovative because they created a new controller for a video gaming platform represents an interesting point-of-view.

I do agree that a CEO who really understood the future of computing and technology would do MS a world of good. I think that if they could find one and he/she could do a wholesale culture change throughout the organization it would do them (and their stockholders) a lot of good.

Nirvin M

Interestingly, Apple did come up with the first really usable approach to touch/tablet computing. Many had tried and failed before them and many more have failed since.

Apple being such an innovative company, Why couln’t make a better web browser my friend? (For your information, iOS & Safari are less secure than other platforms/browsers (even when compared with IE)

John Harlow

Apple being such an innovative company, Why couln?t make a better web browser my friend? (For your information, iOS & Safari are less secure than other platforms/browsers (even when compared with IE)

Wow. Pretty observant. Safari has problems.

Let me point out to you the title of the thread: “Apple?s Safari: Lingers on as Second-Rate Browser

I certainly don’t dispute that title. In fact my first post was about how bad Safari is. OTOH, I don’t see FF as much, if any better. Chrome has its good points.

IE’s market share has dropped over the years because it was such a disaster. (Its pretty hard to use any word but disaster for a product when it suffers a drop in market share from 95% to 38% in 7 years.) I think that is beginning to change now that MS has recognized that HTML5 is the future and announced that dotNet and Silverlight are dead as UI technologies for Win8.

In general, security will continue to be a potential problem for any browser that allows extensions or plug-ins. Hopefully, we’ll reach the point where all browsers run in their own little sandboxes so that their weaknesses don’t threaten the host.

I know my rule for running IE (for the few sites I must use it to access) is to run it in an extremely locked down VM, using NAT’d access. The VM i use is checkpointed before each use of IE and shutdown and reverted afterwards. This has protected me from most of IE’s flaws.

rd68k

Note that MS invented Kinnect (isn?t that innovation?). What Apple did?

It seems you are not quite informed. Kinect (correct spelling) is based on IR recognition technology from PrimeSense, Israeli company, who sold it in 2008 to MS.

Apple invented at least:

- the modern MP3 player, iPod
- the modern smartphone, iPhone
- the modern tablet, iPad

John Harlow

Note that MS invented Kinnect (isn?t that innovation?). What Apple did?

Let’s give credit where credit is due. It was Nirvin M that said that.

Lucifuge Rofocale

I’m not getting why you penned this speculation around the time amazon blovates yet another unneeded, proprietary web browser.

In my work I test with most browsers on most platforms. Not long ago Safari was first with built in script debugger. Most of the features you take for granted about Safari have been copied by all the others. I have found one significant anomaly in the way Safarie 3.x processed CSS, that’s all.

If you don’t like the way it looks, skin it. Or leave the skin off.

Of course, noone would read your article if it was titled, “Internet Explorer lingers on…”. MS has been punching out new versions every year, because they had to. Apple… just works. Chrome spies on you, dude. Go get the sqlite plugin for Firefox and inspect the browser dbs. And you thought you deleted all that stuff…

If you are crashing Safari on Windows and not OS X, consider the flaws in the OS. Seriously. Look at all the versions and changes every 30 months. You are paying Billionaires to be an ‘unwitting test subject’. If Apple invested their time trying to keep up with that, they’d get dizzy & you’d still be on Netscape. I don’t want to be on the bleeding edge: its always my blood.

Meanwhile Microsoft’s main business is short changing America, bigtime, and Herr Schmidt that thinks if you don’t want anonymous strangers on the internet to know what you’re doing, perhaps you shouldn’t be doing it. Perhaps when he gets his pie in his face, it will be banned from yt.

GravyJones

I’ve always thought that Safari was made to suck on purpose for Windows.  People who use it would chalk up the trouble to being Windows and not Safari.

Lucifuge Rofocale

To paraphrase Steve Jobs, iTunes for Windows is to show Microsoft’s victims what they are missing. So true. I use it for bait all the time. Once you go Mac, you never go back. I get alot more work done on the Mac, because I no longer spend half my time or more ‘maintaining’ the OS.

If Mr. Martellaro extended that chart back a few years or more it would show a different trend.

Windows: for people who need to be asked, “Are You Sure You Want to Do That?” to keep them from paying attention to what they are doing. I do not have A.D.D.! Its the Windows!!

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