Why are my iPad browser choices all so terrible?

My iPad mini is like every other computer I use, in that its Web browser gets more use than maybe any other app on the device. But this tablet is unlike every other computer I use, in that the browser situation on it generates more ongoing frustration than any other app situation.

The problem starts with Safari, the default browser that I don’t remember being so terrible. At some point in the last year or so, Safari for iPadOS started unpredictably closing every tab open in the primary view. Sometimes a crash heralds this development–but Safari for iPadOS, unlike Safari for macOS, seems incapable of restoring tabs lost in a crash automatically and does not offer the Mac browser’s “Reopen All Windows from Last Session” command. At other times, I switch out of a tab-group view (those extra, named collections of open pages somehow seem immune to this glitch) and find myself staring at a blank browser view instead of however many pages I had left open before.

Apple’s iCloud browser sync doesn’t help as much as it should, because its synchronized browsing history presents a flat, chronologically-sorted list of every page as last opened on every iCloud-synced device. In theory, I can use its iCloud Tabs feature–relocated last year to the bottom of the start page–as a kludgey workaround to see on my Mac what I had open on the iPad, but I keep finding that lags behind my use.

This problem–one other people have often reported–makes Safari for iPadOS dicey for any longer-term research unless I think to create a “tab group” and move those page to it.

With 2020’s iOS 14, Apple finally allowed its mobile-device users to set other browsers as their defaults, but the more time I’ve spent exploring that option the less I like it. To start, you can’t import your browsing history from Safari to another iPad browser–that requires turning to a Mac, doing the import from there, and then using that alternate browser’s sync feature to pull the imported history and bookmarks to down to its iPad version.

Apple also still forces competing browsers to use its WebKit rendering engine, ensuring that they stay exposed to vulnerabilities in that until Apple pushes out a system-level security patch that will leave my tablet useless during its 10 minutes or so of reboot-required installation time.

But Apple’s competitors aren’t helping their cause with me either by failing to copy one thing I do appreciate in Safari: the tab-group optio that I find handy for collecting pages on a particular topic (like “recipes” or “shopping”) and keeping them all open without cluttering the main browser interface. Chrome does support tab groups but doesn’t sync them between devices (and is immensely worse on privacy grounds), while Firefox’s “Collections” feature inexplicably remains confined to its Android app.

Microsoft’s Edge gets closest to Safari with its own Collections feature that syncs across devices and platforms, even if this Chrome-based browser does not let you reorder pages in a collection the way Safari lets you move pages around inside a tab group.

So one answer to my problems using Apple’s browser on an Apple device might be… installing a Microsoft broswer? That is a possibility so bizarre that I’m going to need a little more time to process it.


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