Most people would agree that Apple’s mobile Safari browser is one of the iPhone’s great strengths. While Steve Jobs leaned on the iPhone engineers to get the new device just right, on the other side of the house Apple’s browser people also felt under pressure to do their part. Everyone at Apple knew that much of the iPhone’s magic would lie in the way it accessed Web content.
Apple’s browser designers decided to build the mobile version upon the existing desktop foundation, and as a result the iPhone’s browser is basically a scaled-down version of the desktop Safari. The mobile browser shines with an intuitive interface and easy navigation through and between pages, as well as a knack for rendering most pages flawlessly.
An address bar resides at the top of the screen, and a Google search box sits next to it. At the bottom is a persistent bar with icons that allow you to navigate back and forth between pages (left side), a plus sign that opens the page-sharing and bookmarking options, a shortcut to your favorite pages, and a tab switcher to browse between multiple open pages.
When you tap on the address bar, the field enlarges and the on-screen keyboard pops up so that you can enter a URL. A similar thing happens when you tap on the Google search box. Entering a URL in Safari mobile is straightforward, and the on-screen keyboard adapts to the operation, displaying period, slash, and ‘.com’ buttons instead of the spacebar. One nice touch: When you tap and hold the ‘.com’ button, more top-level domains (such as ‘.org’, ‘.net’, and ‘.edu’) appear.
After you enter the desired URL, the page-loading progress displays as a blue bar in the address field, and a stop/reload option shows at the end of the field.
One of the strengths of Safari mobile is in how it zooms in and out on Web pages. When a site loads, the text is usually too small to be legible. So while flicking up or down on a page lets you scroll, double-tapping on an area of the page prompts Safari mobile to zoom in to that column or area automatically, and it adjusts the zoom ratio to nominal legibility. Double-tapping the top of the screen quickly scrolls to the top of the page.
The iPhone’s adaptive zoom capability makes navigating quickly between certain areas of a Web site extremely easy, especially when the site has more than one column of content. When you’re done with the area you want to read, you can just double-tap again to make the page zoom out to the initial view. You can then zoom in again to another area. To save an image from a page on the iPhone, you just tap and hold on the image and press Save Image.
Navigating through multiple tabs is possible on the iPhone as well. If you click and hold on a link within a page, a contextual menu appears, and there you can select to open the link in a new page. Alternatively, you can press the overlapped-squares button (at the right end of the persistent bar at the bottom of the screen) to reveal other open pages or to open a new tab. You can also flick left or right through open pages (you can have a maximum of eight tabs open at the same time).
The iPhone’s tabs system has its annoyances, however. Because of the limited multitasking capability of the iPhone, when you open a tab in the background, the page within it will not load until you select that tab. Also, on certain occasions I’ve noticed that the iPhone reloads the pages on the background tabs for no apparent reason.
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