It has been around for a while, and in that period has largely been a bit like the trusty bookrack in the living room. You go to it every day and while the books on it change, you are so used to it that you hardly think of changing the rack itself. Safari on the Mac OS has been a bit like that. It has been one of the most used apps of the operating system and is considered to be speedy and reliable, but not much thought has been given to changing it, well, not too radically anyway.

big sur gives safari the update we did not know it needed - safari privacy1

That has changed with the Big Sur update to Mac OS, officially taking the operating system to Mac OS 11. And while a lot of attention has been on how the new OS is rather similar to iPad and iOS, one of the biggest changes in the OS is the overhaul that has been given to its browser. Yep, seventeen years after making its debut, Safari has finally got a makeover. In fact, its biggest-ever makeover, if Apple is to be believed.

Battery life and speed get a boost

And well, it actually translates into performance. Even though two of the most notable changes are actually in areas about which very few users had any complaints – speed and battery life.

I tend to use Safari very heavily and sometimes to the extent of making my MacBook Air (2019) a SafariBook, using the browser for everything from browsing the Web (duh), to editing documents (Google Docs), managing appointments (Google Calendar), and watching videos. I don’t do that much heavy-duty work on the Air and for the most part, it has Safari running on it, with Wi-Fi constantly on. I used to get a very handy seven to eight hours in the past on a single charge. That has shot up to a clear nine hours or more with middling brightness.

Then there is the speed. Apple has always claimed that Safari is much faster than Chrome when it comes to launching sites and browsing the Web, and this has certainly been the case on Macs (Safari incidentally is no longer available for Windows). The newest edition of the browser however is discernibly quicker – no, we would not go so far as to say it is fifty percent faster at loading frequently visited sites than Chrome, as Apple claims, but the difference in speed is very visible, unlike in the past. This is a significantly faster and more efficient Safari, and while we had nothing to really complain about, the changes are welcome.

Previews, favicons..and THOSE security reports

big sur gives safari the update we did not know it needed - safari preview

There are changes on the surface as well (all right, that pun was totally unintended – apologies, Redmond). The most noticeable, of course, is the website previews which appear whenever the cursor hovers above a tab. It just takes a little bit of time to happen the first time around (say, a few seconds), but then works just fine. And it can be especially handy if you are browsing multiple pages from the same site or service. If you are surfing different sites then you do not need to get into preview mode at all, for Safari now shows Favicons – basically an icon representing a site on the tab itself.

big sur gives safari the update we did not know it needed - safari favicons

Rather more significant, in my opinion, are the security reports that are now a major part of Safari. You can just click on the shield icon on the left of the address bar to see the number of trackers the browser has blocked from that particular site. Need more? Head to the “Privacy Report” section (it is under ‘Safari’ in the menu) and get detailed information on trackers blocked and which websites tried to track you over the past thirty years. There’s even a privacy report on the start page, showing you the number of trackers Safari has stopped. Considering how Apple almost obsessively advertises its privacy concerns and security, I think this is a super move. And again, one that I did not think necessary until I saw it – now I end up clicking on that shield icon within a few minutes of opening a site.

Biggest update? Yep, and sticking to basics

big sur gives safari the update we did not know it needed - safari privacy2

There are a few other touches, including the facility to see more tabs at one time, translate a web page (not from and into any Indian languages though), and support for Extensions (hello, Chrome). And well, the icons and fonts look a little flatter now. But for me, the biggest changes in Safari are a clear change in speed, a better battery life, and security (I just checked and got the message that “This web page did not contact any trackers” – I work on Google Docs!).

Yes, the changes in appearance, the style previews, and favicons are nice, but they are mere touches in comparison. Big Sur has indeed given Safari perhaps its biggest overhaul. And improved features that not only we had no complaints about but also those we had not even realized we needed.

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