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Apple drops radical Safari tab changes in new MacOS Monterey beta

A new beta version of MacOS restores the old way browser tabs work.

Safari MacOS Monterey new tab look
With MacOS Monterey, Apple no longer will consolidate Safari's address bar and tab strip into one zone at the top of the web browser.
Screenshot by Stephen Shankland/CNET

Apple on Wednesday stepped back from overhauling how its Safari web browser handles tabs on MacOS. The company released a third beta of its new MacOS Monterey software that separates the address box and the tab strip by default, moving back to same design that's in the existing MacOS Big Sur version.

The change shows how difficult it can be to modernize user interfaces. One person can see a redesign as simpler, while another sees it as stripped of utility.

One purpose of beta tests is to gather feedback, and Apple evidently listened to complaints that arrived in the five weeks since Apple revealed the very different Safari tab approach at its WWDC developer conference in June. The new approach tucked the address bar into the active website's tab and squeezed other buttons for navigation, website privacy information and extensions toward the left. Apple software chief Craig Federighi touted it as a cleaner new approach.

"We think using the browser should feel natural and uncluttered," Federighi said in a June keynote speech when he revealed what Apple had planned to be the new look. "So we've reimagined the browsing experience. We distilled the toolbar to its essential elements. Tabs are more compact, modern and lightweight."

Apple also stepped back from a menu that packaged options like sharing and reloading the website into a single menu.

For those who like the overhauled Safari tabs, Apple will offer it as an option.

Tabs have become essential to browsers, particularly as so much of what we do on personal computers takes place within a web browser. It can be tough to manage tabs, though, which typically are presented as a single long list of items across the top of a browser window.

Apple's Monterey version of Safari introduces tab groups as one way to bring some order to the mess. Chrome introduced tab groups in 2019, and Microsoft Edge offers an option to stack tabs vertically along the left side of the browser.

On iPhones, Apple made another Safari change in a new beta of iOS 15 released Wednesday. When you do a search, the search bar now appears right above the keyboard instead of at the top of the phone screen. The keyboard can be dismissed by swiping down on it to show more of the web page.

Now playing: Watch this: Hands-on with MacOS Monterey