It is no exaggeration to say that the web is my home away from home. It is the place where all of my work gets done (Google Drive, Slack, and Email are just the starting point). It is also where the majority of my entertainment and commerce is served up (YouTube, ShopGoodwill, and Twitter). And yet, the web mostly didn’t feel mine on my phone or iPad.
On a “desktop-class browser,” you have always been able to change the way in which the web looks and works. For years, I have used Chrome Extensions, Greasemonkey scripts for Firefox, or Safari Extensions that work in my preferred browser, Safari Technology Preview. These “add-ons” to the browser have helped me to build far better workflows on the Mac without any of the headaches of Ads, Tracking, or other user-hostile actions that companies try to build into their websites.
And yet, on more mobile devices (phones and tablets) this option has mostly been absent (short of jailbreaking your device or moving to an alternative operating system, like ChromeOS). That was until iOS 15 and the launch of a unified Safari Extensions system in which the same code can be used across phone, tablet, and computer. This means that the same workflows I build on my Mac can be used on my phone and vice versa.
And this event has been an absolute game changer, it has just taken me six months to fully understand their true power. It also took me this long to realize just how much my life has changed as a result of these tools being available on the devices I use the most. So, I wanted to take an opportunity to share the Safari Extensions that have made my time on the web more joyful, more productive, and far less annoying!
- ActiveTab – While I added this extension to my workflow when Apple was testing out a new version of Tabs that made it harder to determine which tab was “active,” I have kept it as an essential part of my workflow because I find the visual cue of a subtle highlight color at the top of my active tab to be an essential bit of information for quick navigation.
- Convusic – My music streaming app of choice is Apple Music, but many folks use Spotify to share their music with me. While I love using tools like Odesli to share universal links with others, not everyone goes to that length to ensure that everyone can take advantage of their preferred music service. So, Convusic does the work for me. Whenever I am sent a Spotify link, it will automatically search Apple Music for the same song/album and open it within my app. It is a magic experience to never worry about converting from one platform to another.
- Dark Reader or Noir – I go back and forth on which of these two “dark mode for the web” extensions I like better. At the moment, I’m using Noir because the auto-detection and matching of dark colors for websites that don’t natively support dark mode is a little better. But, the way that Dark Reader handles images is more sophisticated (i.e., they don’t get inverted Google Docs in an effort to make them darker on the screen). Regardless, I love not going blind when I use the web at night. Dark mode is beautiful.
- Mapper for Safari – Google has the most effective search engine, but I have become far less interested in Google knowing where I am at all times. To avoid this level of tracking, I have to stop proactively giving them my geolocation. This means using Apple Maps instead of Google Maps. So, while I still search for locations using the excellent Google Maps search functions on the web, whenever I get directions, this extension will automatically convert the request to Apple Maps and allow me to skip the copy-and-paste dance that I was doing in order to have a privacy-focused turn-by-turn experience.
- Raindrop.io – Bookmarks are not entirely dead. While I most often just search for what I need or use the “recently viewed” auto-complete that is built in to Safari, there are many times a day that I need a specific resource that is hard to access without being saved and categorized ahead of time. I use Raindrop for all of my bookmarking needs, and it is wonderful! I love the way that it can capture notes, tags, and even custom icons without any issues. It is a full-featured app that just lives in my mobile browser now.
- StopTheMadness Mobile – Many web developers, particularly for those who make their money through advertising or data collection, are not good stewards of the open web. They will “hijack” your browser, putting banners all over the place or even disallowing you from copying text on their pages. These are all user-hostile actions that can be fixed simply by disabling the code that tracks and limits your web browsing. With this extension for example, I can navigate anywhere without worrying that the webpage knows I am looking at it (the Page Visibility API is disabled). This is a huge quality-of-life improvement, and I don’t think I would ever use the web again without it.
- Tweaks for Twitter – I no longer see Ads or Promoted Posts on Twitter. I no longer see trending topics. I do not see “who to follow.” In fact, whenever I use Twitter, I only see tweets from those who I have explicitly followed. It has radically changed how I feel about the service. Whereas, I used to get bogged down in the deluge of current events that the “what’s trending” told me were important. I now only go to Twitter to see what my little corner of the internet is up to. It is glorious.
- Vidimote for Safari – I have always watched videos at 1.5x speed or higher. This is the best way to not only control the speed of your web videos, but also to allow for better Picture-in-Picture and video playback settings. It takes the best elements of the YouTube App and provides them within the browser.
- Vinegar – Tube Cleaner – This is a pretty basic extension, but it is one that I use daily. It essentially replaces any custom video player (like the one on YouTube.com) with a vanilla HTML video experience (the native player that your device already has built-in). By doing this, it also removes ads, provides great picture-in-picture support and allows for better background playing as well.
- GoodLinks – I often cannot read all of the articles that I want to within the course of a given day, so I sometimes need to save them for later. Goodlinks is my absolutely favorite way to do this. It has the cleanest interface for reading, the best options for tagging and categorizing articles, and the most elegant syncing across all devices (including the reading progress for each article). This extension allows you to save articles from anywhere in Safari (and other apps too!).
- Wipr – This is the only ad-blocking extension I have used that actually works on the vast majority of websites that I use. It works for the news sites that I want to read as well as the random storefront that wants to sell me ever more of their wares. It also gets rid of GDPR notices and other bits of tracking and web annoyances. It is like the web got a fresh coat of paint.
- Unobstruct – I often find myself looking at a Medium article or looking at a link from Reddit and getting annoyed that an overlay of “open in app” or “sign up” shows in front of the text. It can destroy my ability to read the article entirely when I am on my phone and there are multiple competing overlays that are impossible to navigate past. Unobstruct gets rid of these overlays on all of these sites, and if you find one that it doesn’t natively support, then you “Unobstruct the page” from the share sheet and it will remove them from that site too!
Your mileage may vary with these extensions, but I have found them to be an essential part of my working and waking life. I also believe that these extensions represent only the beginning of what is possible on the mobile web. I see this as a return to what made the web so important in the early 2000s. We are once again in control of what it looks like to us and we do not have to take “the app experience” as all that we are allowed to have. The fact that I no longer see ads in the vast majority of circumstances means a less cluttered brain, and that in itself has changed my life.