I tried many alternative browsers on my iPad. So many, in fact, that I can’t even remember the last time I deleted one. Maybe it was Super Prober, or Atomic Browser. I really can’t remember. My problem with you, developers of alternative browsers, is that you’re not Apple. You’re not even close to being able to implement features and think - just think - that they could work better than Safari’s.
I’ve seen many bloggers and people I follow on Twitter claim that they found a browser better than Safari. In the past months I read dozens of articles about “I ditched Safari for Atomic Browser” or “I needed tabs so I installed this on my iPad”. Early and quick excitement is bad for the internet: your words will stay there for the months to come as a living sign of your past ramblings. You said you ditched Safari, and now your homescreen.me profile lacks any alternative.
Step your game up, people. You don’t need to write about alternatives, because they all suck.
These aforementioned developers seem to think that adding features on features is the path to follow to achieve the perfect alternative™ to Safari. They put tabs in the browser, bookmarks, favicons, recent searches, status bars, downloads, font sizes - user backgrounds. Someone even put a browser in the browser. On the other hand, Safari doesn’t even have tabs. Safari for iPad (and iPhone, but let me focus on the tablet today) is a minimal application whose sole purpose is that of enabling you to open webpages and browse the Internet. It comes with thumbnails for pages (“no tabs, dude”), bookmarks and the possibility to create webclips on the homescreen. I’m so happy to say “that’s it”. Unlike Safari 5 on the Mac which has recently added support for extensions (one of the reasons why I’m using Firefox now, but more on this next week), Safari on the iPad is the triumph of minimalism. Not just for the sake of it: because it works.
See, the iPad itself is a rather minimal device. Apple could have added 3 USB ports a built-in FireWire, but they didn’t. They wanted you to hold a slate in your hands and forget that you’re using a device made of silicon and plastic and aluminum. Apps are the device. When both the elements are geared towards a minimal approach, yet they manage to help you get things done - now that’s what the iPad was built for. I’m not saying iPad apps shouldn’t be feature-rich: hell, no. I’m considering the case of a web browser that lets you just browse the web without getting in the way with features that kill usability. I’m taking a look at Safari, then at Atomic Browser, then back at Safari. No, I don’t buy the alternatives.
Now I know you’re going to comment below and say that for just .99 cents Atomic (or whatever other app you use) is the best browser for iPad. Perhaps it is for you. But for me, and call me a fanboy (again, you’re free to do so) this mess is intolerable. It’s not just the looks: I tried these apps, remember? They’re slow. They’re clunky. They pretend to be a desktop browser on a tablet when, you know what, that stuff barely even works on the desktop. Tabs as we know it are dead. So are bookmarks. Toolbar buttons and icons? Please. Skinnable interfaces? Please, again. iPad users want elegance, reliability and performances. We don’t need the features, not the ones that you, developers of alternative browsers, have offered us up until today.
So here’s to hoping that many of you will follow the example of iLunascape, a browser app I discovered a few weeks ago thanks to TechCrunch. iLunascape features tabs and history, it comes with settings and it also lets you capture a screenshot of a webpage. Still, the developers got it right on their first shot: the app is elegant, fast, a pleasure to use. It’s got perfect state saving, so that all your open tabs will be there again on each launch. Just like all the alternatives, right? Sure, it could use more performance improvements (Safari is still a little bit faster at rendering pages, especially during scrolling), but the fact that the app still sits in my dock after a week must mean something. The fact that I use this thing must mean something. Am I right, developers?
Safari is a great app. Yours suck. Maybe it’s time to remove features and think more about users.