Apple revives dedicated tab bar in Safari on iPad, with compact tabs now entirely optional

Safari’s compact tabs on iPad are now entirely optional, and that’s awesome news—the latest iPadOS beta now defaults to showing a separate row of tabs, just like Safari on your Mac.


  • Apple has tweaked the new Safari in iPadOS 15 beta 4
  • The usual separate row of tabs is now back, turned on by default
  • Optionally, revert to the controversial compact tab interface
  • This shows Apple listens when users prove it wrong

Apple's Safari app icon set against an all-white background

iPadOS 15: Safari’s compact tabs vs. dedicated tab bar

The fourth beta of iPadOS 15 brings back Safari’s dedicated tab bar on iPad while making the annoying compact tab redesign entirely optional.

The separate tab bar is now the new default after installing iPadOS 15 beta 4.

A few people who grew accustomed to Apple’s terrible tab experience in prior betas can still activate Apple’s original compact tab bar that merged separate tab and URL bars together.

If you have the fourth beta of iPadOS 15, you can decide how your tab experience will look like.

Head to the Safari settings and you can switch between the compact tab bar from prior betas and having your tabs live in their own dedicated row from there. On macOS, the separate row of tabs was added in the third macOS Monterey beta.

8 outstanding new iPad features in iPadOS 15

This is the first time Apple has made such a drastic change to Safari’s tab interface in years only to step back from it after hearing negative feedback from testers.

Why has Apple changed its mind regarding Safari tabs?

Apple is clearly addressing criticism that the reimagining of the Safari interface in iOS 15 and iPadOS 15 is just bad design, especially in terms of usability. That being said, however, there’s still more work left to do as the updated tab interface feels a bit rough around the edges.

John Gruber, Daring Fireball:

My big problem with this tab bar—both on Mac and now iPad—is that it’s very hard to see which tab is the current (selected) tab. The visual indication for “selected” is just a very slightly different background tint—whether you’ve got “Show color in tab bar” enabled or not. You can even scroll the current tab out of view. Why is that possible? I don’t see how this is better than the Safari 14 tab bar in any way, and I see a lot of ways that it’s worse.

You can see for yourself how user-unfriendly Apple’s original vision for compact tabs and other usability changes in Safari is by watching our hands-on video, embedded ahead.

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Apple will continue testing iPadOS and other updates with its registered developers and public beta testers over the next few weeks. The updates will launch publicly sometime in the fall.

Other Safari changes in iPadOS 15 beta 4

Apple has tweaked other problematic aspects of the new Safari with iPadOS beta 4.

For example, a dedicated Reload button is now again available within Safari’s URL bar. The problem is, the button itself is inexplicably small as a touch target. The Reload command continues to also be available via Safari’s contextual menu (…) in the toolbar.

A button for Reader mode has been re-added to the URL bar in iPadOS 15 beta 4.

Unfortunately, the entire Safari Reader experience continues to be half-baked just as it is in prior betas. For starters, what’s the purpose of barely displaying a Reader button when a page loads only to have it disappear a few seconds later?

True, Reader is still available through the Share menu and by long-pressing the URL bar, but does Apple seriously expect ordinary users to figure all of this out on their own?

Speaking of which, a Share button is now available via Safari’s tab bar in iPadOS 15 beta 4.

Overhauling Safari on iPad with Monterey-style design we got in the third macOS beta seems like a good idea, but what iPhone? That’s another area ripe for some major rethinking—as noted on Twitter, the Safari toolbar in iOS 15 beta 4 has more than half a dozen touch targets.

Hey, but at least now you can long-press the URL bar to reveal the “Show Bookmarks” option.