Way back in 2008, when Google first unveiled the Chrome browser, the search giant made what at the time seemed like a curious decision: they merged the location bar and the search bar into a single intelligent omnibar. Four and a half years later, Apple’s finally following suit with Safari in both Moutain Lion and the forthcoming iOS 6 update. It’s about time.
Safari’s new combined search and location bar is going to be a controversial move for some die-hards, but there are a lot of good reasons for it. Google had the right idea when they combined these two separate fields in Chrome. The fact of the matter is that when you look at the way most people use web browsers, they tend not to understand the distinction between searching for a site and typing in the URL to that site directly. Why make an arbitrary distinction between a URL and a search term if you can treat the location bar as both, directing users to where they need to be accordingly?
Safari’s new combined search and location bar is going to be a controversial change for some die-hards.
In iOS 6, Safari’s new unified location field will be a welcome change, specifically because it will free up some valuable screen real estate, particularly on the iPhone. On Mountain Lion, though, it results in a cleaner user-interface and a more user-friendly experience. Type a URL in the location bar and you will go directly to a website; type a search term in the location bar will send you off to Google instead, dynamically suggesting popular related search terms (or results from your bookmarks and history) as you type.
It all works well. Sadly, it’s a bare bones interpretation compared to Chrome’s, which allows you to set up all manner of site- and engine-specific search keywords in the omnibar, so that you can easily search, say, YouTube’s video results by just typing a keyword before your search term. Still, in regards to freeing Safari of one of its vestigial and unnecessary appendages, the new unified location bar is much appreciated, and we can only marvel at the fact that it took Apple this long to borrow one of Chrome’s best features.
Since Lion, Reading List has been improved to function less like a to-read list of bookmarks and more like a viable alternative to services like Instapaper and Readability. In Mountain Lion, web site URLs cannot only be saved to Reading List, but all of the page’s assets are cached and stored in the iCloud, allowing them to be loaded up instantly even without a web connection. In combination with the fantastic Reader functionality, Safari 6.0 does a better job than ever of making web content — particularly long-form journalism — pleasant to read, both on the Mac and on the iPhone and iPad.
iCloud Tabs is another cool new feature of Safari 6.0 (although regrettably one limited to devices running the iOS 6 beta, at least for now). Using iCloud Tabs, you can easily access any tabs that are open on your iPhone, iPad or Mac from any other device, simply by clicking the Cloud icon to the left of the location bar. Started reading a great article on your iPhone on the subway, and want to continue it on your MacBook Air at home? You used to have to email it to yourself: now, the link is just a couple clicks away.
Also new is an improved Tab view. Using a multitouch mouse or trackpad, you can pinch out in Safari to see all of your open tabs and swipe between them. It works fine, but it feels like another of the small but ultimately fairly pointless flourishes Apple has been adding to OS X since Lion to make the operating system “feel” more like iOS, not a feature that actually improves usability.
Otherwise, Safari under Mountain Lion isn’t looking to rock the boat too much. Over the last few years, Apple has mostly focused Safari development on refining what is still the cleanest, fastest and easiest-to-use default system browser shipping with any desktop or mobile operating system, and Safari 6 continues this tradition. There aren’t a lot of new features, but in conjuction with iCloud synchronization and Mountain Lion’s new sharing features, Safari feels more polished than ever.
Apple continues to focus on refining what is the cleanest, fastest and easiest-to-use default system browser shopping on OS, and in Mountain Lion, Safari feels more polished than ever.
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