iPhone Life magazine

Bring the Power of the iPhone browser to Your PC!

whatsnew-hero-20090529 We all love the iPhone’s pinch-capable browsing and slick gesture-based navigation. It’s clean animated experience is a wonder to behold, and not uncommon to it’s big brother, the iMac. There is little doubt that both the iMac and the iPhone have set new standards for attractive window navigation that is hard to replicate on a PC. That is, without adding a bunch of 3rd-party software. PC users might be surprised to learn that they can have a bit of the same magic by simply downloading a single free application from Apple. The Safari 4 web browser now has some very cool iPhone features, like unique cover flow menu animation.

 

Installing Safari

DL

You can grab a downlad of Safari 4 for PC by using your current web browser to go to the following website: www.apple.com/safari/download/

Requirements for Safari on Windows:

  • Any PC running Windows XP or Windows Vista
  • 500-MHz Pentium-class processor or better
  • 256MB of RAM
  • Top Sites and Cover Flow require a compatible DirectX 9.0 video card with 64MB of video RAM.

The download is about 27MB in size, and the install and set up are both pretty simple (simply run the installer when the DL completes). You can choose download packages with or without the Apple QuickTime plug-in. QT will allow you to play Apple proprietary formatted multimedia content. You can choose to install Apple’s Bonjour service along with Safari, which is a helpful service if you use other discoverable network devices (like printers, etc), however, my iPod touch is set up as a file server on my home network, but Bonjour did not discover it. I tested Safari on my HP mini note 2133 netbook PC, alongside the latest Google Chrome and IE 8 web browsers for brief comparison purposes. Let’s take a look at some of the neat new features Safari has in store.

 

Top Sites

TopSites

Probably the 2 most sexiest features in this latest version of Safari are called “Top Sites”, and Cover Flow. The Cover Flow feature has been standard in the Apple mobile device players for some time. The Top Sites view, which can also be configured as your default home page, gives you a concave matrix view of your favorite web pages (using chip images). The chips are essentially preview images of the latest web content. When you first start up Safari, and select the Top Sites button, it will fill in several of the chips with pre- loaded content, however as you browse it starts to add web-sites based on your browsing. To navigate to that page, simply select one of the chips, and it will slide/expand to a full screen view.

Adjust favorite sites, and pin your own favorites in Top Sites by dragging URLs (right shot below)

TopSites3 TopSites4

You can also pin sites in the view to remain there, move your favorite sites around in the display, and adjust the number of chips. For example, I reduced the amount of chips to 6, pinned my favorite sites there (by quickly dragging by personal blog URL into an empty spot), and then set the top Top Sites view as my home page.

You can also select Top Sites as the default view when opening a new tab. This is a great way to quickly peruse several web sites for the latest content. The Chrome browser has a similar feature, but true to form, Apple wins on style.

 

Cover flow

HistoryCoverFLow

iPhone and iPod users have known and loved this feature of Apple’s excellent media player for years. Safari now adds it as an optional way to rifle back and forth through your browser history and bookmarks. Thumbnail views of the pages are aligned to the left and right out to the edge of the cover flow view (see above). The pages on each side are displayed at an angle that also allows you to catch a glimpse of each page. You can use the slider at the bottom, or mouse scroll wheel to move back and forth through the content in your cache (or your bookmarks). The center image flips to a frontal view of the selected page as each page moves to the middle (like a rolodex on it’s side). Cover flow and Top Sites both functioned decently on my netbook, though there was a little jerkiness and hesitation. Like with any product that incorporates animation, you should check the minimum requirements of your computer’s CPU, memory and graphics card to make sure it is robust enough to handle it (see above). Safari is an excellent browser without the fancy animations, so you can still likely use it with these features turned off.

 

Scrolling/Zooming

Zoom

Zoom full page quickly using keyboard shortcuts…

Zooming is not necessarily unique in the new batch of PC browser’s, but Apple Safari brings zooming closer to the iPhone’s “pinch” experience if you have a computer that supports “trackpad” gestures (say, like a real Mac). My mini note has a touchpad, but I could not find a way to enable any pinch hacks (see this post). If you have a laptop/netbook with a Synaptics touchpad, you can enable gesture based options (on some models), and there are also 3rd-party tools that can add these capabilities, though I didn’t test this. My touchpad does support virtual scrolling, which will allow you to use gestures to scroll long pages, and even “coast” when scrolling (the page continues to scroll after the gesture). This also works with the Cover Flow features mentioned above, though I had to set the scrolling sensitivity to it’s slowest setting to be effective. Using a real mouse scroll-wheel was actually a little easier. To adjust your touchpad settings in Vista/XP, go to Control Panel >> Mouse. Look for a tab that includes advanced features specific to your touchpad (probably the last tab on the right…see below). The links provided above will describe how to add the hacked Synaptic driver, or to use the 3rd-party utility for advanced scrolling.

Windows touchpad settings…

Touchpad

Safari provides zoom via keyboard shortcuts (CTRL +/- by default), and an option to zoom only the text in a web page. It would be great to see Apple natively allow Safari to somehow support PC hardware like touchpads and even PC touchscreens (Win7 and IE8 now supporting gestures). Both Chrome and IE8 also have zoom features similar to the ones in Safari, though lack the ability to toggle a zoom text-only mode.

Here are more of the great features in Safari 4:

  • Safari features tabbed browsing, and Smart Address field--hits start displaying as you type--and history search.
  • Support for browsing/reading RSS news feeds and feed aggregation.
  • Advanced Web Technologies like speculative loading, CSS Effects and now Acid 3 test compliance.
  • Windows Native look and font rendering
  • Safari’s Nitro purported to be the fastest javascript engine

For this review, I focused on the animated goodies in Safari 4 that are somewhat similar to Apple’s latest gadgets, the iPhone and iPod touch. Safari performed at least as well overall as my other favorite browser (Google Chrome) on my HP mini. I did note that it could be a bit sluggish on some web pages that are horizontally long or require a lot of scrolling, but think it’s probably going to replace Chrome completely as my browser of choice. I used it to browse and use a wide array of sites, including YouTube, Hulu, Gmail, and my favorite blog and news sites. It performed well, as I said, but I think it could use a few tweaks. It would be neat if you could break out the RSS feed posts individually in the cover flow interface. That way you could quickly browse through each post. The full-page zoom feature also is not granular enough between zoom settings, and often causes zoomed content to scroll off the page. Chrome is a pretty minimalist browser, and good if you want a very simple and easy to use experience. IE8 is chock full of additional integrated social -network features (like Live, Messenger, and Blogger tools), but neither browser is as sexy as the new Safari. Go here to learn more about this mucho cool web browser.

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Nate Adcock's picture

Nate Adcock is a system and integration engineer with experience managing and administering a variety of computing environments. He has worked extensively with mobile gadgets of all shapes and sizes for many years. He is also a former military weather forecaster. Nate is a regular contributor for the iphonelife.com and smartphonemag.com blogs and helps manage both websites. Read more from Nate at natestera.drupalgardens.com or e-mail him at nate@iphonelife.com.