John Gruber on Safari and favicons

John Gruber, on the reaction to a piece he wrote comparing Safari vs. Chrome on the Mac:

But really, taken as a whole, the response to my piece was about one thing and one thing only: the fact that Safari does not show favicons on tabs and Chrome does. There are a huge number of Daring Fireball readers who use Chrome because it shows favicons on tabs and would switch to Safari if it did.

The reaction was so overwhelming I almost couldn’t believe it.


The gist of it is two-fold: (1) there are some people who strongly prefer to see favicons in tabs even when they don’t have a ton of tabs open, simply because they prefer identifying tabs graphically rather than by the text of the page title; and (2) for people who do have a ton of tabs open, favicons are the only way to identify tabs.

I use Safari for the most part, but I heartily agree. See for yourself. Here are two pictures, showing a bunch of tabs open, one in Safari, the other in Chrome. Which makes it easier to identify individual tabs?

Solid point, John.

  • I wish Safari had the option like Gruber suggests. The main reason I’m using Safari on Mac is because of the syncing on iOS with keychain and web history.

  • FuzzyPuffin

    Obviously Apple’s solution is to buy a new MacBook Pro or upcoming $299 Apple Keyboard with TouchBar and use Safari’s tiny thumbnails instead.


    • Kip Beatty

      I’m surprised Gruber didn’t mention that, but you’re right. The Touchbar does use FavIcons to denote tabs. Nice catch!

      • Janak Parekh

        Only for the New Tab bookmarks; and, in fact, Safari also uses favicons there too. For actually switching between tabs, it uses a small “screenshot” of the top of the page, vaguely similar to the zoomed out desktop Safari view.

  • I’d love to know how that image from Safari was captured, because that sure doesn’t look like how it draws tabs.

  • Kip Beatty

    I hate FavIcons. They’re ugly, random, and often poorly designed. Safari has a much more elegant, and useful, solution for the many tabs problem. It’s muscle memory for me to hit ⌘-⇧- (Command-Shift-Backslash) when in Safari and select the tab I want.

    • Janak Parekh

      … a two-finger pinch does the same thing, in case your fingers are on a trackpad.

      Still, despite having these in muscle memory, I rarely remember to use them for some reason.

  • Mo

    I absolutely agree with Gruber here. Proper favicon display makes tab proliferation much more manageable at a glance, variable design quality notwithstanding. It irks the hell out of me that Safari omits this option.

    Question: Did it always? I can’t recall.

    • Kip Beatty

      No, it used to show them, but I can’t recall when they were dropped. I think around the time everything moved to the flat aesthetic.

      • Mo

        So, the effort to improve the depiction of icons included a decision to remove a potentially helpful use for them.

  • Dirk Lenz

    I am not a big fan of tabs in any browser, but there is an option to pin tabs in safari, which shows a color coded capital letter of the website or a favicon (tab and pin for example).

  • Clément Collier

    TL;DR : Apples to oranges (literally).

    I strongly disagree. I used to think that way too when they removed the favicons without warning some time ago. I even raged at the removal of favicons in the bookmark bar (I had a small amount of them with no name, just the icon) and I switched to Chrome for a long while (2 years+). But about 6 months ago I started using Safari as my main browser again and couldn’t be happier.

    Indeed, first of all the whole Safari UI (nav bar + your choice of buttons + extensions + bookmark bar) provide more options / direct actions in less space (between 10 and 20 px smaller height) but it is actually easier to navigate and parse quickly, probably in part thanks to the uniformity. No favicon may actually be a plus for some.

    But there is more : it is actually easier to navigate when you have a small amount of tabs since Safari tabs are smaller in size and you only need to read the first 2 words to find your tab. Separation is better designed, making it easier to parse.

    For a medium amount of tabs, Chrome may be more straightforward if you rely primarily on the favicon to navigate around. However my experience has been that quite a bit of websites simply do not have them and it actually make things harder if you have multiple tabs from the same website in succession. Indeed after around 20 tabs, the favicons are just wasted spaces and you just want to read the title to take your pick ; in Chrome I would quite often play the “guess which one game” for websites I had 4-5 tabs opens. This is amplified when the favicon are poorly made or you don’t know the site very well and at this size it is really easy to confuse 2 sites if they have very close colors.

    Better yet when you go into”I browse the whole internet at once” mode and go past 25 tabs ; Safari handling is infinitely superior. Safari keep the same tab width and gives you 3 great facilities to navigate around them :

    1- Horizontal tab bar scroll, keeping always readable tab name in the middle and allowing the selection of the right one with 100% accuracy super easy

    2- Tab expose feature that is just excellent for any number of tabs (the grouping of tabs by websites is very useful in particular)

    3- Pinned tabs are extremely useful for long lived tabs that you need to keep around and come back to often. Especially since they follow around in completely separate windows.

    Safari tab management blows out of the water Chrome in pretty much every aspect but one small use case. From 10 to 25 tabs Chrome may have a small edge if you only rely on visual (unlikely if you ever open multiple tabs of the same website, good luck with all those Wikipedia tabs…) but the way I see it Safari win most use cases.

    Complaining about favicon when they are almost always ugly and hard to recognize (considering the constraints) is missing the point I believe. This is a poor way of handling tab management that is way too primitive for the time we are in. It’s a bit like complaining that an electric saw needs power to work when the manual one do just fine without. That may be true but then the electric one will win most use cases even though the manual one may be more convenient in a few case.

    I believe that the people complaining follow 2 major case : can’t use Safari for some reason or didn’t get the hang of the new ways they can manage their tabs. The last one is unsurprising since overcoming habits is one of the hardest thing to do especially when you don’t just have to discard them away but learn new things instead (stopping smoking is straightforward, changing eating habits isn’t for this reason).

    To end, making a fuss for Apple use of SVG in pinned tab is stupid. Lately the number of various bitmap icons required for various UI placement has become unmanageable. I mean there are softwares who have been created just to solve that problem. I think Apple correctly identified the problem and is trying to switch to vectors for everything. That would be welcomed and I wish others followed better, just imagine : input a single SVG file and get all the various UI icons handled automatically no matter what, pretty cool. But as always, Chrome is lagging behind in the real worthwhile improvements and prefer to add more crap that doesn’t solve any real problem that hasn’t already been solved (aka let me build a full system on top of your platform and call it a standard).