Jonathan Wylie is a writer, educator and podcaster. You can hear the audio version of this article, and others, on the Unpacking iOS podcast
Safari: The Best Mobile Browser
Google’s Chrome browser is a popular choice for browsing the web on iPhone and iPad, but when you explore the features that are available to you in Apple’s Safari browser, these two apps are actually worlds apart. Reader View for iPhone and iPad is one example of that. It allows for a much nicer reading experience by cleaning up the text on a webpage. However, it’s not the only option for reading better online. Here’s what you need to know.
Safari Reader View
The Safari Reader mode is a handy feature that will transform a webpage into a customizable, easy to read text that is devoid of ads, sidebars, navigation and anything else that distracts from your reading experience. It makes a website cleaner and easier to read. Here’s how it works.
- Open Safari and navigate to a news article or a blog post.
- Tap the four horizontal lines on the left-hand side of Safari’s address bar to activate the Safari Reader View
- To adjust the font, font size, or background color of the page, tap the AA button on the right-hand side of the address bar
- Tap the Reader button again to leave Reader View
If you prefer, you can use Safari’s Reader View every time you visit a website. Simply navigate to that website, then touch and hold the Reader button and select, Use on “website.com”. To use the Safari Reader View on all websites that support it, touch and hold the Reader button and select, Use on All Websites.
How to Use Safari Reader View on iOS
Using Safari's Reader Mode
Not all websites support the Reader view, but the majority do. You will find that it is most often available on an article or blog post type of page. For instance, it won’t work on the homepage of cnn.com, but if you tap on a news article on the homepage, you will see that the Reader View can be used on that article.
A handy tip to remember is to keep an eye on the address bar while a website is loading. If the website supports Reader View, you will see the message Reader View Available in the address bar for a few seconds after the website has loaded. Then, all you have to do is tap the four lines to the left of the web address. This is a quick way of finding out whether the website you are on supports it or not.
Safari Reader Bonus Tips
The Safari Reader view has some other useful benefits. Here are three that are worth remembering.
- Better Print Layouts – When you print things from the web, there isn’t always the option to have a print-friendly layout. This can waste both paper and ink. However, if you clean up a webpage with Safari Reader, you only get the text that you need when you are printing. Ads, sidebars, and everything else are no longer a problem. Plus, you can adjust the text size before you print.
- Better PDF Layouts – In the digital age that we live in, some people prefer digital copies to paper copies. You can make any webpage into a PDF by tapping the Share arrow and then tapping Create PDF from the bottom row of icons. However, if you activate the Safari Reader view first, you can get a cleaner look on your PDF.
- A Better Reading List – Some people like to use Safari’s Reading List to save articles that they want to read later, or read offline. So, before you tap the Share button and Add to Reading List, make sure you turn on Safari Reader so that the article you save is the one that is easiest to read.
Listen to a Website Read Aloud
Did you know your iPhone or iPad can read a website aloud to you? This isn’t a feature that is specific to Safari, but it can be used to great effect when browsing online. It was originally included to support users with visual impairments. However, some teachers use it to help support students with reading disabilities, and yet more people use it to save time while getting ready for work or doing chores. Here’s how it works.
- Go to Settings > General > Accessibility > Speech and turn on Speak Screen
- Open Safari and navigate to a webpage that you would like to listen to
- Enable Reader View so that you only get the text you need read aloud
- Swipe down from the top of the screen with two fingers
- Use the on-screen media controls to pause or adjust playback speed
This useful feature can also be used to have emails or even PDFs read aloud. You will also find this functionality useful with books that are available in the Apple Books app. It’s not as good as a professional voiceover in something like Audible, but it works perfectly well in most scenarios.
To change the voice of the Read Aloud reader, go to Settings > General > Accessibility > Speech > Voices and tap on your language of choice to see available voices. Some voices are better than others, so take a few minutes to experiment and find the one that works best for you.
Double Tap to Zoom in Safari
Another option for reading better on iOS is double tap to zoom. Although many websites are optimized for reading on a mobile device, not all are. You will still find websites that are split into two or even three columns, and this can make reading the main body of the text somewhat difficult. You probably know that you can pinch in and out with two fingers to zoom in on an article’s text, but a quicker way to enlarge the important text on a page is simply to double tap it. This will zoom your screen and optimize it for the main text on a webpage. It doesn’t work on all webpages, but it does work on most. Try it on a news article or a blog post for best results. It can really help focus your brain and increase readability.
Ad Blockers for Safari on iOS
The internet is an amazing resource. However, not everyone is a fan of the ads that help pay for it. Ad blockers block ads and other trackers, which means web pages load faster. It also means you can save data, (and battery life), by not loading video and animations that are included with these ads. Many ad blockers will even block those trackers that follow you around the web.
Mac and Windows users block ads by installing a browser extension. On an iPhone or an iPad, you need to install an app to achieve the same thing. The one that I like and use right now is called Norton Ad Blocker. It’s free, unobtrusive, and works seamlessly in the background, but there are plenty of others to choose from in the App Store. They all do the same thing, but invariably some work better than others.
Once you have your app installed, go to Settings > Safari > Content Blockers to enable the ad blocker. From this point onward, ads will be blocked on all websites that are loaded with Safari, (note: ad blockers do not work in other apps).
If you find that a website doesn't load properly, or you want to temporarily disable your ad blocker, press and hold the reload arrow in the address bar to get an option to reload the page without content blockers.
The Moral Dilemma of Ad Blockers
Using an ad blocker comes with a certain amount of responsibility. For instance, if everyone used an ad blocker on all of the browsers that they used, the internet, at least as we know today, would look very different. Why? Ads make up the main revenue stream for the majority of websites. These websites are free for people like us to visit and interact with right now, but the people that own these websites still need to make a living, and many need to pay the people they employ to help build, update and maintain that service. Ads provide that revenue.
Of course, the flip side of this is that ads can be intrusive. They can make the web a significantly worse place to navigate, not least because many of the ads on websites today have trackers installed that follow you around the internet and report your browsing habits back to advertisers so that they can target you with even more ads. Have you ever looked for shoes on Amazon and then found you were served up ads for shoes on Facebook, Instagram, and in search results? If so, you’re not alone, but at least now you know why.
So, is there a compromise? Kind of. Most of the ad blockers that you can install on your iPhone or iPad will give you the ability to manage a whitelist. When you whitelist a website, you are allowing ads to be displayed on that website. Whitelist options can be found by launching the adblocker app you installed. This accommodation lets you support websites that you value and helps them stay in business longer because you still see their ads.
Read It Later Apps
Another way to get a cleaner reading experience on iOS is to use dedicated "read it later" apps like Pocket or Instapaper. Both of these apps let you save content from the web to read later, and like the Safari Reader view, both apps will also clean up a website so that it is easier to read.
However, the advantage of apps like these over Safari, is that they work on all platforms. As you would expect, there are versions for both iPhone and iPad, but you can also access and add your articles to your collection from a desktop browser on Mac or Windows, or on an Android phone and everything will sync between them. This cross-platform approach makes them very appealing for some people, so if you don’t spend all of your time on Apple devices, these are services that are well worth looking into.
Video Review of Pocket
With these handy iOS tips, your online reading experience can be greatly improved. You might not use all of these techniques, but even if you only try one, I think you immediately notice a difference the next time you pick up your iPhone or iPad. After all, nothing should get between you and the information you are looking for online!
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
© 2019 Jonathan Wylie