Well, another day, another major browser beta; Safari 4 went public beta today, with a lot more UI changes and additions than we’d all expected from the limited developer preview that was released months ago.
Notably, Safari adds tabs to the top of the window (seemingly ‘aping’ Google’s Chrome, which isn’t out for Mac yet) and several new features for visual browsing (nevermind my own ‘top sites’; I haven’t used Safari for months). It sort of took me back for a second to the time where I mocked up the ‘dream browser’.
Using it casually, I found there’s also some other, more subtle changes and additions that made me really enjoy giving this beta a spin, and perhaps will sway me into using Safari a lot more (provided I can find a working Adblock extension).
Safari is representative of a ‘smooth’ browsing experience; it starts up quickly, and presents you a very Apple-like intro movie (yes, an intro movie, with a fancy animated Safari icon, and I’ve heard that it seems the intro is largely composed using images and CSS. Very neat).
Upon going from the pretty grid of your favorite and most visited pages to a website, it seamlessly animates and ‘fades in’ the webpage after it’s been loaded. It sounds ever so simple, and perhaps useless, but it’s a genuinely pleasant feedback for page load completion, and it just feels right. It’s a very nice way to get ‘acquainted’ with the Safari experience.
Interesting to note is that the blue glowing highlighted style of pages in the grid is very similar a the style I described in my UI breakdown of iLife / iWork ‘09. I like it; it’s less turquoise, a bit more blue, and a whole lot more subtle.
But this is all trivial compared to the dramatic changes to tabs. Having tabs at the top is a very logical thing to do; tabs do take precedence over other controls, and are relevant at the top; but two things are possibly confusing; having no title bar to drag the window around with, which you are used to, and the ‘travel time’ of bringing your cursor to the top of the window to switch tabs is greater. I found it uncomfortable at first; I’d like to know what you think. I think it’ll grow on me, though.
The tab dragging behavior has also been normalized; previously, as John Gruber reported, you could only drag the tabs left and right if you started your dragging motion in a horizontal direction; if you started dragging vertically, it also allowed you to ‘tear off’ the tab and easily create a new window out of it. In the new beta, you can actually move the window by clicking and holding the tabs (which takes some serious getting used to) and move tabs, as well as tear them, by touching the little ‘textured’ zone at the right side of each tab.
Apple’s also mitigated the Chrome ‘ski mountains’ problem by adding the ‘more’ button when a lot of tabs are present. There’s still no fancy scrolling of all tabs using the touchpad, though, which I love in Firefox 3.
They do, however, have a nice trick in the drop-down that appears when tabs are overflowing:
It’s a subtle touch, but the darkened items are not visible in the current window. This way, you can easily see which tabs are currently hidden from view (thanks to Matt Gemmell for this one).
Then there’s also the demise of a new button, the reload / stop button. Whereas Firefox, even for Mac, still uses two of these buttons in the toolbar, one for stop, and one for reload, Safari now has zero. Yep, zero. Safari now uses an iPhone-style, tiny reload arrow in the address bar. We’ve seen this change come to the iPhone in the lastest major firmware update, and I’m not a fan of it on either platform. It does add to the clean interface, though.
Very notable, when taking Apple’s previous approach to ‘theming’ Windows applications in mind, is Safari 4′s native look on Windows. It yes, actually looks quite different, as opposed to a ‘fake’ Mac app. I wonder how this will affect the adoption rate of Safari on Windows (barring of course any show-stopping bugs). It even uses Windows-native text rendering.
If you’re a Windows user, feel free to leave your thoughts on this.
It’s not all good; Safari’s abandoned the in-address bar progress indicator (it used to ‘fill up’ the address bar as an indication of page loading progress) for a tiny spinning indicator, similar to what Firefox uses.
I also thought the ‘Tabs’ icon looks rather strange; almost similar to a metal hat. They also put the text label ‘Tab’ on it, for good measure. A good standard for icon design is that if you have to put text on it to describe what it is, it’s probably not a good icon. My friend Sean did these changes, from the original icon far left, to a possibile re-interpretation, and to a possible redesign far right:
Makes a bit more sense, in my opinion.
Some other, less show-stopping issues are the dislocation of the ‘back’ button’s black arrow glyph (it’s offset by a pixel! Argh!), and the strangely changed inset bevel style of the address and search bars in the toolbar. It’s a subtle set of changes, but enough to make me feel… unheimlich. Takes getting used to. Detect a pattern here?
Other than that, Safari’s newest public beta is a really nice browser. Give it a try and leave your thoughts!