Gruber: The Tragedy of Safari 15 for Mac’s ‘Tabs’

John Gruber:

Our long national iOS 15 Safari nightmare ended last month, praise be, but the lesser of the two bad Safari designs unveiled at WWDC persists and actually shipped: the new tabs in Safari 15 for Mac. Safari 15 on iPad suffers similarly, but it’s the Mac version I’ll concentrate on here.

This is an excellent showcase of Safari’s broken tab metaphor. Don’t miss the short little video in the middle highlighting the jarring look of shifting from one tab to another and back again.

John focuses on the Mac in his post, but his comments might just as well apply to Safari for iPadOS 15. Though there are differences between the two implementations of Safari tabs, both joyously break the tab metaphor. If you think about the origins of the tab model, it’s a drawer full of vertical files, where the tab juts up, attached to a specific folder. As you paw through the folders, it’s clear which folder the tab is attached to. The tab and folder are clearly part of the same object, visually connected.

In this new model, the tabs are floating on their own, no longer physically connected to the pages they represent. This new model breaks the physical tab metaphor in a number of ways, chief of which is the lack of a unifying block of color attaching the tab and the page. For most pages, the current tab is one shade of grey, and the other tabs a slightly different shade of grey. Occasionally, the background color will bleed through the tab, offering another tab color to confuse your brain even more.

I see the iPad tab model and Mac tab model as being equally broken. The iPhone model, with the address bar at the bottom, really works well for me. I especially love the hint to the right and left of the address bar, letting you know you can slide side-to-side to get at adjacent pages. This “hidden tabs” model feels like an improvement over previous models.

The iPad and Mac Safari tabs have lost touch with the functionality of the tab metaphor. Color me disappointed. Props to Gruber for taking the time to dig into such detail on each individual point.