Safari in OS X Yosemite: Explained

While there are a number of web browsers available for OS X, only one is included: Safari. That makes Safari an incredibly important application for Apple, because it's one of the first things Mac users will use, and for many of us, it's the only web browser we use. So Safari is getting some big improvements in OS X Yosemite, both to usability and to performance.

Streamlined toolbar and "smart search field"

The first thing you'll notice in Safari is a new, streamlined smart search field that's been integrated directly into the title bar. That provides more room below for actual web content.

That design has found its way into other Apple applications in Yosemite, like Calendar and Maps. The menu bar contains previous page and next page buttons, a button to activate the Sidebar, a Share button, Show all tabs button, and Show downloads button.

Safari now follows its mobile version's convention in iOS of masking the URL: Only the root URL of the web page is displayed, rather than the complete thing. For example, looking at this page in Safari on Yosemite will only show you "" in the search field, until you click in the field, then the full URL is revealed.

Safari Smart Search

What makes it a "smart search field" is Safari's integration with Spotlight. Now as you type in a search term, Safari drops down hits in Spotlight including links to Wikipedia, to make it easier to find what you're looking for.

Another behavior inherited from Mobile Safari - Clicking in the search field reveals a dropdown menu containing thumbnails of favorite web pages, along with frequently visited sites. As a result, the Favorites bar is gone by default, though you can resurrect it with a keystroke.

In Mavericks, Safari had an "iCloud Tabs" button that showed you tabs shared between your Mac and iOS devices. Now iCloud tabs are visible in that dropdown menu as well.

Better tabbed browsing

Tabbed browsing has been greatly improved in Safari, too. You can have an unlimited number of tabs open, and navigating through them is as easy as just clicking back and forth.

Safari Tabbed View

What's more, there's a new Tabs button on the menu that enables you to view all open tabs at a glance. Clicking on the button yields a new window that pops up thumbnails of all of your open tabs a la Mission Control; simply click the tab you want to make that page active.

Easier sharing

Sharing content from Safari is easier in Yosemite than it was before. The Share button has been revamped to include new functionality. Right off the bat, AirDrop is supported (and just a reminder, AirDrop actually works between Yosemite and iOS 8 now). But Apple's paved the way for further enhancements that won't require Safari to be reworked.

Safari Sharing

A new "Recent Recipients" list at the bottom of the Share menu shows people who you've recently emailed or messaged, so you can more quickly share content with them.

A new "More..." menu option brings you to the Extensions system preference. Extensions in Yosemite enable third-party developers to add new features and functionality to the operating system.

Extensions has a dedicated entry for the Share menu, so as social media sites and other services provide sharing extensions, you'll be able to add them to simplify the process of sharing your content with others.

Improved Privacy

There are some times when you may not be comfortable generating a web page history or letting cookies get installed, such as when you're doing online banking or looking at personal content you'd rather not see tracked (yeah, and porn too). That's where Private Browsing comes in handy.

Safari pioneered the concept of Private Browsing — when it's enabled, no data is recorded about that session. Cookies aren't stored, web pages aren't added to the history list, names of downloads are removed from the Downloads window, Autofill information isn't saved and searches are not added to the search field's pop-up menu.

But Private Browsing in Safari has, up to now, been inconvenient for one reason: it's either all on or all off. You can't set up one window with Private Browsing while still using other windows normally. Set up Private Browsing in one window and open another to visit Facebook and see what happens: You'll have to sign in again, because Safari isn't remembering your user ID and password.

Safari Private Browsing

In Yosemite Safari that all changes. New Private Window is how private sessions are handled now. What happens in the new private window stays in the new private window, but you can have other sessions open normally with no ill effects. A long overdue improvement. What's more, that private window can support its own series of tabs, all of which stay private too.

Better performance and efficiency

As I said at the outset, Safari is an incredibly important app for Apple, because it's the web browser most Mac users depend on, and it's a showcase app. So Apple's really dug into the guts of it to eke out the best performance possible. To that end, they've made a number of improvements to performance that should yield even snappier results than you have now.

Yosemite Safari sports support for WebGL, a JavaScript-based technology used to render 2D and 3D graphics on web pages that works without needing a plug-in. SPDY, an open networking protocol, is also supported: It reduces web page load times by prioritizing the transfer of web page resources.

Back in April Netflix made noise about moving away from Silverlight, the (deprecated) Microsoft streaming video plug-in they now use, in favor of HTML5. They've developed "HTML5 Premium Video Extensions" accordingly: A suite of technology using JavaScript and other technologies to manage video streaming, Digital Rights Management (DRM) and cryptography to protect video streams.

Though support for HTML5 Premium Video was initially available for ChromeOS, Apple said that Yosemite Safari will support the technology as well, and their preliminary results are impressive: A Mac streaming Netflix content using the new technology runs significantly more efficiently: Up to two hours longer battery life on a MacBook Air watching a 1080p HD movie from Netflix than before.

Safari browser efficiency

Apple's also improved multi-tab browsing energy efficiency in Safari, with dramatically improved performance in JavaScript — up to 6.5 times faster than Chrome, according to Apple, with twice the performance for most web apps, too.

The bottom line

Safari demonstrates a core philosophy Apple's employing across Yosemite: To reduce pain points or user interface awkwardness for people whose primary experience using Apple products has been iOS. Changes like the drop-down Favorites menu will be immediately familiar to iOS users.

The new functionality is also welcome. Private browsing in Safari is way more convenient than it was before, and the Share menu's link into Extensions promises a lot more social networking integration than was ever possible. The improved performance and efficiency, especially for video content, will be welcome for anyone running Yosemite from a laptop.

What are your pain points for Safari in Mavericks? Has Apple answered them with this new version of Safari? Let me know in the comments.

Peter Cohen
  • Over all It's much improved over Mavericks especially viewing multiple tabs at once. The option in mavericks really doesn't make any sense but here you see all your tabs pretty much on one screen when you pinch-to-zoom out. The browser is much, much faster than any previous incarnation but two things bother me. 1, The smart search toolbar becomes a colossal mess of icons from pages you visited once to find a piece of information. There is no perceived order or system to the icons. If you I've been to the website, it appears there essentially making it difficult to find anything or understand what you're looking at. 2, you now have to click twice on a tab to access it. If you have more than 12 tabs open in one window on a 13" screen, eventually the tabs begin to shuffle behind one another like cards. If the card becomes too small, your first click makes to card name come to the front to show you what you've clicked on, and the second click brings to the tab to the front. I appreciate that but I know what tabs they are so i have to click twice on them to bring them up. In this case opening up a second window and starting tabs there solves the problem but because I'm using the developer preview, opening up multiple windows makes the app extremely unstable. Really the icon mess in the smart search is my only complaint. It's useless in my opinion.
  • Several points: 1. You can now set DuckDuckGo as your default search engine. That's the first thing I did after installing Yosemite. Have used the DuckDuckGo app on iOS and the Safari extension on OS X for years, and I'm extremely happy that it's now available as the default search engine on OS X. Why? Because DuckDuckGo doesn't track your searches like all other search engines. Or so they claim. And you simply can't trust Google's ad-spammed searches any more. 2. I think Apple is hiding the full URL for two reasons: simplicity and app-ification. Simplicity in that it's easier to comprehend top-level URLs than deep path names. App-ification in that Apple would be happy to diminish Safari usage and increase app usage. Want to see CNN? Just launch the CNN app, etc. Which again is a simplification. I think Google is hiding the full URL because they want you to search for the same page over and over. More search revenue for them if you don't copy / paste long URLs. Or bookmark them. (Of course, Google isn't the only search engine available to Safari any more.) 3. Yes, Safari on Yosemite is definitely "snappier."
  • The massive improvements to Javascript speed are long overdue and welcome. Safari is painfully slow compared to every other browser.
  • not really. It's significantly faster than firefox which is unusable on the mac. And the last version of Safari and even the 7.0.4 beta is just as fast as chrome but way more intuitive on the mac than chrome. I used to be all chrome until version 7 of Safari. And Version 8 in Yosemite is faster than chrome on my mac. I've done the tests.
  • it's true. The current version of Safari is a dog when it comes to Javascript.
  • Yosemite Safari looks so good when I launch Chrome now it feels like a slap in the interface.
  • You said this in one of your podcasts and when I got home I laughed after launching Chrome. lol. :)
  • My current frustration is that Safari can't seem to remember individual site zoom levels. I hope they fix that. I also use the gmail 'mail to' bookmarklet that doesn't work correctly in Safari. Sent from the iMore App
  • "Rightsizer" extension for safari
  • Great story, Peter! As usual, it's clear, concise, and relevant.
  • I can't get the share button to work, it says "no service"
    can anyone help?