Apple's Ricky Mondello has a great thread on some of the improvements for users and web developers coming to the next version of Safari, which is available in today's betas of iOS 11.3 and macOS 10.13.4.
Among the highlights: animated GIFs can be replaced with silent videos; Intelligent Tracking Prevention is getting even smarter; Safari Reader has an improved parser and support for link blogs; Password AutoFill for Apps, which debuted with iOS 11, now works in web views inside apps. If you're on the iOS 11.3 beta, you can try the improved Reader on this very post. As for GIFs, here at MacStories we already replaced them with silent .mp4 files loaded via native auto-play (see one in action here), but we're considering adding support for video content in
<img> tags as well. I'm also glad to see Apple expanding support for modern web app technologies including Service Workers and Web App Manifest.
You can find the full documentation for Safari 11.1 on Apple's website here.
DuckDuckGo, the popular search engine for privacy-conscious users, today launched major updates to its browser extension and mobile apps in an effort to grant users data protection no matter where they are on the web.
The browser extension – available for Safari, Chrome, and Firefox – joins the revamped DuckDuckGo app on iOS and Android in providing a set of privacy features that affect your full browsing experience. In addition to the existing private search feature DuckDuckGo is known for, the extension and app now offer built-in tracker network blocking, smarter encryption, and a Privacy Grade rating for sites you visit.
DuckDuckGo's privacy features work seamlessly in the background for those using the extension or mobile app. Any hidden trackers detected by DuckDuckGo will be blocked, and users will be able to see a full list of exactly what has been blocked. If a site offers an encrypted version but doesn't automatically send all users to it, DuckDuckGo will perform that routing itself.
The Privacy Grade ratings are an interesting feature designed to give users a quick, easy understanding of each site's privacy practices. Each site receives its grade based on several factors – whether it offers an encrypted connection, what, if any, tracker networks are detected, including major tracker networks, and whether the site has published privacy practices that DuckDuckGo has vetted. Based on all of this information, each site contains a unique privacy grade ranging from A to F. The site will also receive an 'enhanced grade' where applicable, meaning the grade for the site after DuckDuckGo has deployed its blocking technology. Sites can only receive a perfect 'A' grade if no trackers were detected and the site's privacy policies have been reviewed by DuckDuckGo.
I've been using DuckDuckGo as my primary search engine for nearly a year, and have had a great experience with it. It will be interesting to see what difference, if any, DuckDuckGo's vetting and grading of sites will make in shaping future privacy practices.
Alex Hern, reporting for The Guardian on the results of Safari's new Intelligent Tracking Prevention (ITP), launched last year with iOS 11 and macOS High Sierra (via John Gruber):
Internet advertising firms are losing hundreds of millions of dollars following the introduction of a new privacy feature from Apple that prevents users from being tracked around the web.
Advertising technology firm Criteo, one of the largest in the industry, says that the Intelligent Tracking Prevention (ITP) feature for Safari, which holds 15% of the global browser market, is likely to cut its 2018 revenue by more than a fifth compared to projections made before ITP was announced.
Here's how Apple officially describes ITP in Safari 11's documentation:
Added Intelligent Tracking Prevention, which updates the default cookie and website data policy to isolate and remove cookies and website data for sites with the ability to track users across-site.
This isn't the first time ad companies have complained about Apple's protection of user privacy in Safari and stance against invasive cross-site tracking. In September, six trade groups claimed Apple was "sabotaging" the industry with a "unilateral and heavy-handed approach", to which Apple responded:
“Ad tracking technology has become so pervasive that it is possible for ad tracking companies to recreate the majority of a person’s web browsing history,” according to an Apple spokesperson. “This information is collected without permission and is used for ad re-targeting, which is how ads follow people around the Internet.”
"Unilateral" is exactly right: Apple should only care for the interests of users buying their devices, not those of third-party ad companies creepily tracking them around the web.
Cross-site tracking and ad targeting has gotten so out of hand over the past couple of years, it's become a regular comment from friends who don't follow tech news – "Why am I seeing an ad for something I was checking out two days ago on another site?" is a question I hear frequently despite the existence of third-party ad blockers and Apple's own ITP in Safari. Personally, I think the more Apple can advance ITP, the better it is for the privacy of all iOS users.
Too many websites wreck the reading experience by floating interface elements on top of articles. One of the worst offenders has been Medium, which John Gruber called out on Daring Fireball recently. Medium has made some improvements since then but didn’t eliminate floaters, and there are many other sites with social media buttons, branded navigation bars, and other material that hovers over webpages even as you scroll down the page. The practice makes it especially hard to read on the smaller screens of mobile devices.
Unobstruct doesn’t hide persistent navigation bars by default because doing so would make it impossible to get around some sites. Instead, you can use the app’s action extension from the share sheet to hide the bar. Later, if you need the navigation bar, you can simply reload the page to get it back.
I love Unobstruct’s colorful and feisty robot icon. It adds a bit of fun and whimsy to an otherwise utilitarian app. For insight into the icon’s design, be sure to check out Ged Maheux’s blog post, in which he details how he started the design by making rough sketches in The Iconfactory’s drawing app Linea, then moved to Adobe Illustrator after Gaul had picked his favorite.
Unobstruct doesn’t block as broad a variety of webpage elements as some content blockers, but its singular focus on floaters pays off. In my testing, the app worked flawlessly to remove floating buttons automatically, as did the extension for eliminating navigation bars. Branding and sharing are important to websites, but they shouldn’t get in the way of the core experience – reading. The trend of obscuring content with floaters is a shame, but I’m glad I have Unobstruct to make browsing those sites a little nicer each day.
Unobstruct is available on the App Store.
Adobe announced today that it has set the end-of-life date for Flash, its popular technology for displaying animations and other multimedia on the web.
Adobe is planning to end-of-life Flash. Specifically, we will stop updating and distributing the Flash Player at the end of 2020 and encourage content creators to migrate any existing Flash content to these new open formats.
Apple has a long and storied history with Adobe and, more pointedly, Flash. When the first iPhone launched ten years ago, one of the chief controversies at the time surrounded the fact that Safari on iPhone OS did not support Flash, and Steve Jobs made it clear that it would not support Flash.
This stance grew into more of a sticking point for prospective consumers in 2010 when Apple’s new tablet, the iPad, did not support Flash either. Sparked by the newly revised controversy, Jobs laid out his thoughts on the issue in a piece simply titled “Thoughts on Flash.” His closing words predicted the technology could not survive in an increasingly mobile-first landscape.
Flash was created during the PC era – for PCs and mice...New open standards created in the mobile era, such as HTML5, will win on mobile devices (and PCs too). Perhaps Adobe should focus more on creating great HTML5 tools for the future, and less on criticizing Apple for leaving the past behind.
Shortly before the winter holidays, Consumer Reports announced that the new MacBook Pro had failed to earn its ‘recommended’ rating due to poor battery life caused by Safari. Apple disputed the testing done by Consumer Reports and worked with it over the holidays to track down the discrepancy between its testing and Consumer Reports’ results. Today, Apple released the following statement to a handful of outlets, including iMore and The Loop:
"We appreciate the opportunity to work with Consumer Reports over the holidays to understand their battery test results," Apple told iMore. "We learned that when testing battery life on Mac notebooks, Consumer Reports uses a hidden Safari setting for developing web sites which turns off the browser cache. This is not a setting used by customers and does not reflect real-world usage. Their use of this developer setting also triggered an obscure and intermittent bug reloading icons which created inconsistent results in their lab. After we asked Consumer Reports to run the same test using normal user settings, they told us their MacBook Pro systems consistently delivered the expected battery life. We have also fixed the bug uncovered in this test. This is the best pro notebook we've ever made, we respect Consumer Reports and we're glad they decided to revisit their findings on the MacBook Pro."
There have been reports of battery life issues with the MacBook Pro that are unrelated to Safari, but this should put the Safari issues raised by Consumer Reports to rest.
Apple Pay started with point of sale terminals and iOS apps. With iOS 10 and macOS Sierra, Apple has extended Apple Pay to include web-based purchases made with its Safari browser. Despite being limited to Safari, Apple Pay's combination of simplicity and security has the potential to make it a de facto requirement for online retailers.
Jer Noble on the WebKit blog:
Since before your sun burned hot in space and before your race was born, Safari on iOS has required a user gesture to play media in a
<audio> element. When Safari first supported
<video> in iPhoneOS 3, media data loaded only when the user interacted with the page. But with the goal of returning more control over media playback to web developers, we relaxed this restriction in iOS 8: Safari began honoring the
preload="metadata" attribute, allowing
<audio> elements to load enough media data to determine that media’s size, duration, and available tracks. For Safari in iOS 10, we are further relaxing this user gesture requirement for silent
There are a few new
<video> policies in iOS 10, and the WebKit blog goes into great technical detail about what they all are. But for most users, there will be two main changes that you'll notice in iOS 10. The first is that iOS 10 will now support the ability to play videos automatically if they are silent. For example, some websites have a silent video background (e.g. The Life of Pi movie website), and others use it as an alternative to displaying GIFs. In iOS 10 these will be able to play automatically without a user interacting with it. It is important to note that this feature of automatic playback will only be triggered if a video has no audio tracks or is muted.
The second change is that on the iPhone, user-triggered video will not automatically enter full screen mode. Instead, videos will play inline, just as they do currently on the iPad and on Android. Full screen mode is still available, but a user will have to trigger that manually.
These may seem like small tweaks, but they are notable improvements to the video experience on Safari for iOS. The first brings the iPad and iPhone one step closer to the Mac/PC web experience, whilst the second is a recognition that iPhones have become large enough and powerful enough that it is entirely feasible that users may wish to view videos inline and continue browsing the webpage that has embedded the video.
Content blockers arrived with a splash on iOS last Fall when iOS 9 was released, but have only recently begun showing up on the Mac App Store. Last month I reviewed 1Blocker, a Safari content blocker that replicated its successful iOS app on the Mac. Today, Obied Corner released Roadblock for Mac, which takes its iOS content blocker and adds some compelling new features. What makes Roadblock unique, is its focus on profiles, allow you to set up different sets of content blocking rules for different use cases, and its simplified approach to creating complex custom rules. Despite a few limitations that I discuss below, these two features make Roadblock extremely powerful and an excellent choice if you are looking for a content blocker for your Mac.