iOS 6 preview: Safari tab sync, uploads, banners, and full screen mode

Safari has been on the iPhone since the first version launched in 2007, and has been steadily improved, year after year, version after version, ever since. iOS 6 follows the same, steady, evolutionary pattern, addressing long standing user pain-points like image uploads, and providing parity with features from other browsers, like Chrome's tab sync. It also makes Reading List more robust, and provides an interesting way for websites to alert users about, and move them into, apps.

Here's how Apple describes the new Safari features:

iOS 6 brings even better web browsing to your iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch. iCloud Tabs keeps track of which pages you have open on your devices, so you can start browsing on one device and pick up right where you left off on whatever device is handy. Safari now saves web pages — not just links — in your Reading List, so you can catch up on your reading even when you can’t connect to the Internet.4 And when you’re posting a photo or video to eBay, Craigslist, or another site, you can take photos and video — or choose from your Camera Roll — without leaving Safari. When you really want to see the whole picture, turn your iPhone or iPod touch to landscape and tap the full-screen icon to view web pages without distractions.

And here's how it works:

  • iCloud tabs let you see pages that are open on any other iOS or OS X device you have logged into the same account. So, if you start reading a page on your MacBook, you can instantly open it on your iPhone while you take the bus, and iPad while you sit at the coffee shop, and never lose your place.

  • Reading List has been extended with an offline mode. Now, when you save pages to Reading List, Safari will download a copy of the contents and keep it available to you, even if you don't have a connection when you want to read it (for example, if you're on the subway to or from work).

  • Photo uploads will intercept buttons on web sites that try to access your file system, and present you with the Camera app or Photos app image picker instead. So adding avatars and putting pictures on social networks can now be done directly in Safari.

  • If you go to a website that also has an App Store app, like Yelp! -- or iMore -- the website can tell you about the app with a Smart app banner, and give you a button to view it in the App Store. If you already have the app installed, the Smart app banner will give you a button to open the app, and take you to the same place in the app that you were looking at on the website. (Likely not automatically, but using some form of URL scheme.)

  • On the iPhone or iPod touch, if you rotate Safari to landscape mode, a new full-screen button appears. Tap it and almost all the browser interface elements disappear and you can view your content using every pixel of the display. (Semi-transparent buttons remain: one to exit full-screen mode, and one to browse back a page, if there's a previous page in the browser history.)

It's taken so long to get image uploads into Safari that almost every popular website has already created an app to provide that functionality. Still for sites that haven't, it's a welcome addition, long past due.

iCloud tabs can be handy for someone who has a lot of Apple devices. However, if you plan on using tab sync, and other people have access to your devices at home or at work, you might also want to look into iOS 5's Private Browsing mode...

The Instapaper inspired Reading List still won't be enough for power users, but it's finally beefy enough to be useful for most casual users.

Smart banners once again show Apple's prioritization of apps over web content, and given how much of a better user experience native apps remain, that's not a bad thing.

iOS 6 is scheduled for release this fall, perhaps as soon as September 19. For more on iOS 6 and Siri, check out:

Rene Ritchie

Rene Ritchie is one of the most respected Apple analysts in the business, reaching a combined audience of over 40 million readers a month. His YouTube channel, Vector, has over 90 thousand subscribers and 14 million views and his podcasts, including Debug, have been downloaded over 20 million times. He also regularly co-hosts MacBreak Weekly for the TWiT network and co-hosted CES Live! and Talk Mobile. Based in Montreal, Rene is a former director of product marketing, web developer, and graphic designer. He's authored several books and appeared on numerous television and radio segments to discuss Apple and the technology industry. When not working, he likes to cook, grapple, and spend time with his friends and family.

  • Thanks for this review--was wondering what was in store for Safari and it looks pretty good! One question about this point: "The Instapaper inspired Reading List still won't be enough for power users, but it's finally beefy enough to be useful for most casual users." I currently use Pocket. Can you explain what we'll be missing by using the new Reading List? Thanks!
  • Third-party app integration (you can typically save to InstaPockAbility inside apps like Reeder, Tweetbot, etc.), a web interface for when you're not at one of your own devices, and then it varies by service. Instapaper has search, for example.
  • Thanks for your quick reply, Rene! Re: Third-party app integration. If I'm reading in, say, Zite, are you saying that the article would not be able to be bookmarked? I guess it would bookmark "Zite" instead of the original...? Re: "...when you're not at one of your own devices..." Huh?! It's 2012! When the heck are we not at one of our own devices?! ;-) But seriously, I'm lucky in that I'm never just browsing or reading on a foreign browser, so to speak, so that's not a downside for me.
  • I am curious to know why Apple didn't include full-screen mode in Safari when in the default portrait. Many of the 3rd party browsers have that feature.
  • Yet another great post Rene. Keep it up!
  • wow the more of this crap I read I have the feeling of just throwing my iPad cause once again crap...
  • Not sure if you're trolling or if you are serious. If you're trolling you need to find a hobby. Go stare at the sun for an hour or go to the zoo jump in the cage with the lions and see what happens. If you're serious then why are you here? Theres many options out there like Android, Windows phone, Blackberry etc etc. I mean who continues to use something if they don't like it or the way it works?
  • You're a very positive person! If it is "crap", just go make your own OS and start producing it to millions of people worldwide.
  • So what are you waiting on, go ahead a throw your iPad down. Back on topic, nice changes to Safari, I would prefer Safari if it had all those features now, but I currently use Chrome on my Ipad. Maybe in IOS 6 I can go back to safari.
  • Thanks for the good updates Rene. Btw, any word if there will also be native password syncing between iOS and OSX devices? Or will we still be dependent on 3rd toy apps to provide this fundimental feature?
  • Safari lacks one very important feature, text reflow, and Apple still wouldn't add it. I just don't understand why it is so hard to do? With a small iPhone's screen this should've been there long time ago!
  • If you use the "Reader" mode (on websites that it's available on) then you can use text reflow. I use it all the time on pages that have a lot if text (and often here on imore)
  • This is very cumbersome and very lame way to read the websites. i know about this mode and most of the pages i read don't have that button available. I see no reason why anyone would not want to have a tex reflow in iOS it's just common sence
  • Right there with you on the reflow, makes the browsing exp. so much better imho. Do i use the "reader" mode? Sometimes, but it's not even close to having actual reflow.