Week of Safari 4 – Day Two, The Interface

It’s day two of my week with Safari 4 and after my initial impressions, I thought this would be an opportune moment to discuss the interface changes Apple have pushed out with this release.


It’s difficult to discuss Safari 4 without talking about the Tab placement. Following in the footsteps of Google’s Chrome browser, Apple have moved the Tabs to above the address bar, and actually placed them at the same level as the window itself. There are various arguments for and against this approach. Most notably, the proponents will argue that it enforces a visual hierarchy, as switching tabs also changes everything below it. I can see the sense in this approach, visual hierarchy is important in applications, and helps users set expectations. I’m not completely sold on Apple’s approach however. By putting tabs at the same level as the window title, they’ve lost the cohesiveness that usually comes with applications. The result is that safari looks like a group of tabs, rather than an application that contains tabs.

For me, and this may be less of an issue for others, I found the new tab placement difficult to get used to. I found myself repeatedly clicking in the wrong area when trying to switch tabs. This usually resulted in my clicking of a bookmark instead of a tab. I’ve no doubt that this is something I will eventually get used to, but it’s a little jarring at the moment.

To Drag or Not To Drag

In the previous version of Safari, version 3, Apple introduced some advanced drag and drop functionality involving the tabs. For example, you could drag a tab out of the current window to create a new window containing just that tab. For the drag and drop mechanic to work, it has to be clear which areas are draggable. The image below is a screenshot of the top of Safari. I’ve put some numbers on it and I want you to guess what will happen if you attempt to drag the area pointed to by the numbers.

The areas, when dragged, do the following.

  1. Drags the tab, for example to reorder the tabs in the current window or to drag the tab into a new window.
  2. Drags the entire window, to reposition it on your desktop.
  3. Resizes the search and address fields.

As you can see, it certainly isn’t obvious. The distinction between the area used to drag the tab and the area used to drag the window isn’t clearly defined, and it’s easy to get the wrong one.

Top Sites

Another feature Apple has liberated from Chrome, which in turn liberated it from Opera, is the Top Sites page. Of course, Apple has given it a certain spit and polish that only Apple can. This is a feature that wasn’t present in my previous browser and I’ve sort of dismissed it when it got added to other browsers. I was wrong to. I’ve actually been using this feature allot, and it’s become my home page and the page I load when opening a new tab. It’s very handy.

For those unfamiliar, the Top Sites page presents a grid containing screenshots of the sites you visit the most often. Sites can be removed / hidden from this screen as well as rearranged and pinned in place. I’ve chosen to lock a couple of sites in place and let Safari take care of the rest.


Apple have also introduced their Coverflow mechanic in Safari, which seems to be slowly permeating into every area of OSX. This isn’t necessary a bad thing in Safari, as it adds a nice visual cue to the history and bookmark pages. Browsing your history using coverflow is particularly satisfying, and lets you identify a page you were looking for more quickly than using text and page titles alone. It’s possibly less useful for Bookmarks, but I’m sure it will come in handy.

One observation is that the screenshots for bookmarks seem to only load intermittently. Some still haven’t loaded, and I’ve been using the browser for a couple of days now. This problem doesn’t appear to be present on the history screen though, which is a relief.


My brief, glancing experiences with Safari in the past have highlighted one little interface gem. The URL bar loading indicator. It just seems like such a good idea, and works brilliantly. Yet, for some unknown reason, it’s absent from this build. Now it may just be that they didn’t get time to add it in to the Beta, but I suspect this is more down to the unified look they are striving for in OSX. The blue, aqua-style bar doesn’t really fit in anymore. Hopefully they will find a way to reinstate this feature in a more carbon-like guise, because the current loading indicators don’t cut it. They are too anonymous and can make it difficult to tell whether the page you are viewing is loading, or whether it’s another tab. The loading indicator, a small rotating circle similar to the ones found n websites, will appear either in the address bar or on the tab. If you have multiple pages loading in multiple tabs, it can become confusing, and doesn’t seem nearly as elegant as the old approach.

Tomorrow, I’ll look at performance and stability.

Read more from my Week with Safari 4.