The iPad Pro Chronicles: Web Browsers

Probably the biggest thing holding the iPad back honestly not its limitation on multitasking or access to the backend of the OS. Nay, I say. It is the browsers. Alternatively, the limitation of access to the backend.

File Management

As Federico Viticci of Macstories and some others have mentioned there are some tweaks and hacks to get file management to work. In my very humble opinion, anyone who is not interested in discovering these tweaks and hacks is the same kind of person who would not mess around with a Linux OS, hack their Windows computers to overclock their CPU’s, or use Mac’s terminal to conduct web development on the high end.

Browsers

There are many browser options available in the world of iOS. Granted, not as many available as there are for desktop. However, they are still somewhat limited. They are also limited because Apple designed it that way.

It would be one thing to blame everything on lack of developers interest in creating a desktop class browser. The fault is really in Apple’s court. Apple has limited developers’ access to its WebKit engine on iOS. Apple has limited functionality. Giving their browser, Safari, the upper leg, in all aspects, and in some respect, why wouldn’t they. And yet Apple still fails to create an impressive version of the desktop version of the Safari browser.

Safari – Forever Mobile

The Safari browser for the iPad is essentially the same browser as the Safari browser for the iPhone. The Safari browser is coded separately from the iPhone version. But it still uses a mobile engine that tells websites to default to the mobile version of their website.

Perhaps Apple is not changing a thing because it is expecting that eventually, all sites will update to be responsive? And this is most definitely the current trend. All browsers being built today are designed to have responsive elements 1. Or perhaps Apple believes that the best way to access the web is via a mobile app?

The problem with this is that for the sake of the iPad Pro, almost no developer is yet pushing out a desktop class app. All are built to be mobile friendly first. And thus most apps feel limiting on a full-size screen.

Another tick is the Safari’s “desktop website request” feature. This sometimes doesn’t always work. And when it does it never remembers the setting. Say for example I am browsing the website reddit. On the iPad Pro, I would much rather prefer to open Reddit’s desktop version of their website versus their mobile version. When I open a separate link in another tab Safari opens it, by default, Safari opens it in mobile again. I am not sure why Apple has decided to let this happen? They have every opportunity to prove to the world what a fantastic browser Safari could be on iOS. Especially if they want to make an argument for the iPad to be your central computer. They do nothing.

Other Browsers

I have already tried some browsers during my thus far limited time with the 2017 12.9” iPad Pro. Here I write my limited experience

Dolphin

Dolphin looks beautiful. Dolphin has a dark mode among other themes. Dolphin can sync with other Dolphin browsers. And Dolphin even has a desktop version. It even has a built in Ad blocker.

However, Dolphin’s real claim to fame is a feature it calls “gestures.” Which allows you to draw a letter to indicate a command. For example, if you draw an “N” with your finger, it will open a new tab. However, you have to teach Dolphin all the gestures. It does not remember anything by default. It cannot recognize a gesture until you tell Dolphin, in its settings, what a gesture means after you draw it. Rather tedious.

And that is about it. There is nothing remarkable about Dolphin other than the fact it has Ad Block built in, it has a drawing gesture feature, and the ability to add themes. That is it.

Chrome

Chrome for iOS only claim to fame is that it syncs with your Google account. Which is important if you are a heavy Google user. And if you are a heavy Google user then most likely, you use the desktop of Chrome a lot. However, unlike Safari or Dolphin, Chrome has no way to block ads. Thus you are stuck loading websites with no protection from their adware.

I have noticed through my limited testing; Chrome sometimes does a better job loading pages than Safari. And it does an excellent job of remembering your tabs and whether you want that website in that tab to be in Desktop or Mobile. However, just like Safari, once you open another tab of the same website, it defaults to mobile. Sad!

iCab

iCab has so much potential but falls short by iOS limitations. There are a plethora of features and settings that would make anyone, who has the time to waste a weekend, many choices. It even has a feature where it tricks websites into thinking iCab is a desktop Chrome, or a desktop Firefox, etc. However, here is where there are still problems.

Even though Apple’s iPads are defined as Retina, with multiple pixels giving a quality where the naked eye cannot see any pixelation—the truth is you see a screen that is double-pixelated at a lower resolution. If the iPad were to show the max pixelation of an iPad screen, things would be so small you might need a magnifying glass to be able to see things.

In the Mac, you can download third-party apps that allow you to change the resolution of Mac’s screen to a variety of resolutions. You cannot do that yet on the iPad.

Also, in a desktop browser, you can increase and decrease the size of a browser window. In every web browser in iOS, you can pinch to zoom, but you cannot pinch to shrink. It usually stops at the iPad’s default resolution.

Having said that, when viewing a web page in iCab, even though I am finally getting a full desktop version, I also see the website in a low-resolution mode. Oh, the drinking I will do tonight.

Puffin

Puffin’s claim to fame is that you can view Flash via its web browser. It essentially runs flash items from a remote server because you cannot run flash natively in any way on iOS due to its security restrictions. The workaround does work in theory. When I first started using the browser, I tested some flash heavy websites to see how they ran. And for about two to three weeks there were no issues. Lately, though, I have seen many runtime errors, slow connection because the Puffin Flash server must be overly congested, or something.

What at first seemed like a nifty alternative to run desktop heavy websites has not proven to be another hack limited by what iOS only allows.

Browsers vs. Apps

Apple’s argument, since iOS became its primary focus, is that apps are better than websites. Apps have their advantage. However, we are still living in a world where most apps concentrate on producing something for the handheld rather than a full-sized desktop screen. Perhaps that is what Apple is trying to encourage with the iPad Pro models. The first 12.9 iPad Pro was to introduce this idea to the world. They tried giving the 9.7 a pro version but must’ve realized at some point the screen was still not ideal for a push to pro feeling. Maybe they think the 10-inch pro model will address that?

The second step was iOS 11. An actual software push toward a desktop model with a touchscreen and apps being the focus. However, until more developers get on board to build a desktop version of their apps, those who are trying their best to live in a world of an iPad as their main computer, will continue to feel somewhat restrained.

Let’s see how this next year unfolds. Maybe everyone just needs more time?


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