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Give iOS Safari a fresh look by customizing your new tab page

Popular Science
Popular Science
 2021-11-30
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If you’re using Safari’s default new tab page on your iPhone, stop. Things can be so much better. You can adjust the browser’s offerings to better suit your habits and even add a background image for a little bit of flair behind your favorites and other shortcuts.

Yes, the Start Page (to use its Apple-given name) is utilitarian, and most of us only stay there briefly on our way to more interesting areas of the web, but a beautiful rest stop that serves your needs is far more enjoyable than one with blank white walls and seven disorganized convenience stores.

How to change the Start Page background image

With the release of iOS 15, Apple gave mobile Safari-ers the ability to customize the appearance of the browser’s new tab page. Maybe you’re fine with the standard white visual, but if something else will add even a minuscule amount of joy to your day, we say go for it.

In Safari, hit the plus button to open the Start Page. Scroll all the way to the bottom and hit Edit to bring up all available customization options—you’ll see a toggle switch for Background Image at the very end. Make sure it’s activated and tap to choose one of nine preset graphics or one of your photos from your device.

If you go for a shot from your personal collection, you may have to try a few images to find one that works well with everything else on the Start Page. Something that is either very dark or very light (or has clearly delineated areas of both) should contrast nicely, so your links don’t blend into the background. Safari will also use only the vertical or horizontal middle of your image (depending on your phone’s orientation), so you should keep that in mind as well.

How to reorganize Safari’s Start Page

Now it’s time to talk about the other customization options behind the Edit button at the bottom of Safari’s new tab page. Apple’s mobile browser can display seven categories of links, but you may not find all of them useful. To deactivate them, simply turn off the toggle switch next to whichever ones you don’t want to see. Whether the switch is on or off, you can also move the options around by pressing the three lines to the right of each one and dragging up or down to rearrange the list.

Those, of course, are the basic options, but it’s worth doing a little more for full customization. Let’s take a look at each category in turn.

Shared with You

If you get a lot of links from people in Messages, this is where they all end up, and they display in chronological order. Tap Show All to show… 24 (at most)… and Show Less to show… less than 24 (four at most). To remove something from this group, long-press on it, then hit Remove Link .

One useful feature here is hidden behind the gray bubble with the contact’s name inside it. Tap the sender’s name to bring up the chat where they shared the link, and touch anywhere in the white space around the preview to go directly to that spot in the conversation. This can be useful if you’ve forgotten the context for a specific link.

Favorites

It seems that for as long as the internet has existed, we’ve had the ability to “favorite” certain pages that we frequently return to. On Safari, you can do so by tapping the share icon (an arrow pointing up out of a square) and choosing Add to Favorites . The other option here is “Add Bookmark,” which is useful if you’ve created folders within Favorites (if not, we’ll get to that). While “Add to Favorites” will dump the page into the main Favorites area, you’ll need to choose Add Bookmark and select the proper destination to get it into a subfolder.

[Related: 5 advanced Safari tips to level up your browsing ]

To edit your Favorites, tap the bookmarks icon (an open book) on any open Safari tab, then choose Favorites . If you’re just looking to clean house, drag any item all the way to the left to delete it immediately; drag it part-way to unveil a Delete button if you want to think about it for a moment. For more granular control, tap Edit .

Once inside the Favorites editing window, you can delete entries via the red minus button they each have, rearrange the list by pressing and dragging the three lines next to each one, or tap the right-pointing arrow to edit the name, URL, or folder location of an individual link. You can also long-press on a link from the Start Page to edit its name, address, and location.

Press New Folder in the editing window and you can create a repository for numerous Favorites, though only the first nine will show on the Start Page until you open the folder. You can rearrange these from the editing window, but you can also open the folder on your Start Page, long-press on any icon, and drag it a short distance in any direction to shrink it into a movable piece you can place between two other icons.

Reading List

When you want to save something to read later, just stash it here. From any open Safari tab, tap the share icon (the square with an upward arrow) and hit Add to Reading List . To edit this list from the Start Page, long-press an item and tap Delete to remove it. To do more, touch the bookmarks icon (an open book), go to Reading List and swipe right to mark something as read or unread, and sort the list by choosing Show Unread or Show All . You can also tap Edit and select items to delete or save to be available offline.

You can mandate offline reading for everything on the list by opening the Settings app, going to Safari and activating the switch next to Automatically Save Offline .

Privacy Report

This tool is purely informational, and will display the number of trackers Safari has blocked in the past seven days. Tap its Start Page bubble to open a more detailed report that explains the various types of trackers, lists websites by how many trackers they have tried to use on you, and also ranks the most common trackers.

Frequently Visited

This category is for any sites you go to often but may not be designated Favorites. To delete any from this list, long-press on it until it opens a preview of the page with an options menu, then tap Delete .

Siri Suggestions

Here, Siri will suggest pages it thinks you might want to look at. If you turn off its ability to display on the Start Page, it will also disable a matching setting inside the Settings app. For reference, it’s Settings > Safari > Siri & Search > Show in App .

iCloud Tabs

Apple lets you access open Safari tabs on other devices as long as they’re synced to iCloud. To set this up, go to the Settings app on your phone or iPad, tap your name, select iCloud , and confirm that Safari is enabled. On your Mac, open the Apple menu , choose System Preferences , click Apple ID , then iCloud , and turn Safari on.

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