Friday, April 17, 2020

Chrome vs. Safari: Energy Use and Compatibility

Walt Mossberg:

If you use a Mac, and you insist on using Chrome, stop complaining about speed, fan noise, or battery life. It’s well known that Chrome is a resource and battery hog, especially on Macs. Safari is fully capable, quite fast and very privacy & security focused. Just use Safari.

If you’re a Firefox fan, that’s good too. My point is just that Chrome, which years ago worked great on Macs, is now a big problem, and that Chrome users with degraded Mac performance or weaker battery life should look to their browser choice, and not blame the hardware.

Safari is generally capable, but I’ve been increasingly running into compatibility problems. I think it’s fair to say that if your top priority is a Mac browser that works with the most sites, you should pick Chrome, followed by Firefox. I have other priorities, so I’m still using Safari. But lately it feels like a compromise to get a good Mac app and privacy. It used to feel like I was simply getting the best browser.

John Gruber:

It’s also funny how angry some Chrome fans are about this, particularly web developers. They argue that the problem is that Safari is slow to adopt Chrome-first web technologies without acknowledging that the reason Safari has better performance and stronger privacy goes hand-in-hand with the fact that these technologies Safari hasn’t adopted are resource-heavy and potentially privacy-invasive.

I don’t think it’s that simple. First, performance and privacy aside, Apple has a strategic interest in some of these technologies not taking off. Or, more charitably, it makes sense that they wouldn’t be high priorities to implement.

Second, the compatibility issues I’m seeing are not, as far as I can tell, because of new technologies that Safari doesn’t support yet. Rather, the engines are diverging such that even older technologies don’t behave consistently. Unfortunately, some sites don’t adequately test with Safari.

Third, I thought the idea was that Safari’s efficiency comes not just from absent features but also from more efficient implementations of the common features. But even that is not clear-cut. Recently, as we physically isolate, we’ve been doing board game nights online at Board Game Arena. It’s amazing how many games this site supports and how well they work in a browser. But what really surprised me was how much better it performs in Chrome. The 7 Wonders game was almost unusable on my iMac in Safari, with multi-second pauses and animations that lost so many frames I couldn’t see what was happening. The fans were always running at full blast. Meanwhile, on my wife’s 2018 MacBook Air, which I normally find a bit pokey, the animations were smooth and the fans were silent. The difference is that she uses Chrome. Once I fired up Chrome on the iMac, the site worked great there, too.


Update (2020-04-20): Simon Cahuk:

You still can’t watch 4K Youtube videos in Safari. So I opened a 4K Youtube video in Google Chrome to watch it in 4K.

17 Comments RSS · Twitter

Kevin Schumacher

Should preface this with I do not have a laptop and have always browsed on either a Mac Pro or Mac mini, so battery usage is obviously a non-issue in my particular case.

I have given Safari a try at various points since it originally was released and while I love the idea of the relatively recent built-in privacy protections (being a person who installs uBlock Origin as the first order of business when setting up any Firefox or Chromium-based browser for myself or anybody else), I have never been able to make it work long-term. Whether it's extensions that can't do as much in Safari, or website compatibility, especially with my main client's web app for which they don't consider much of anything besides Chrome, I have found it lacking. The times I have tried to use it even for just simple things I have found it to be significantly slower, or at least perceptually so, than other browsers.

When I first got my mini I tried switching to Firefox, but I wandered back to Chrome after having various compatibility and, again, speed issues with Firefox.

I do occasionally have fan spin-ups on my mini with Chrome, though ironically it's usually only a formula-heavy Google Sheets document that causes it when I've been making a lot of edits. Yes, I realize a desktop is very different than a laptop, so I don't know that my case is directly comparable, although I think a mini is fairly comparable against usage on an iMac.

At this point, even if I quit working with my main client (unlikely) and didn't have that compatibility baggage, I still don't think I'd switch because I haven't seen a better browser on the other side. I haven't even seen an equal browser. Between Little Snitch and uBlock Origin, I am satisfied that I am blocking most of what can be blocked as far as tracking and such, so that obviates much of the increased privacy protection that Safari would offer. And that, to me, is the only thing Safari has going for it right now.

@Kevin Yeah, I’ve been hearing for years that Safari is supposedly so much faster. But, after the experience above, I’ve been trying out Chrome more, and I don’t know what’s going on with the benchmarks but Chrome sure does feel faster.

Sören Nils Kuklau

There's an increasing amount of websites that just don't work right on Safari. A big part of this is on web developers, who have moved from Netscape- or IE-"optimized" culture to "standards" culture to Chrome-"optimized" culture. A small part of this is Safari deliberately being aggressive about certain policies for privacy reasons. Part of it, I suspect as Michael does, is Apple outright competing with the web as an app platform.

But another not-so-small part is Safari just being broken. Lots of little things that they never seem to fix. Yes, I've tried filing radars, but oftentimes, they either go untouched, or they ask me if it still happens after a year and a half (are you serious right now?), or they just say they can't reproduce it and close it. Oh, OK, I must have been imagining the issue. Nope, still running into it. Stuff like pasting a URL into the address bar, hitting return, then seeing Safari load the old page again. Pasting it again; now it works. Stuff like one single server failing to respond causing all network requests to sites to hang, forever, until relaunching Safari. Stuff like being prompted for authentication not once, not twice, but for every single Ajax request, because Safari seems forgetful about it, until I give up and open the same page in Edge, where it works fine.

A thousand paper cuts.

It's disheartening because quite a few aspects in Safari just speak to me.

I am astonished that so many sites fail to work properly in anything except Chrome. More and more web usage is mobile now, and at least in the US, that overwhelmingly means Safari. If a developer writes a site that works poorly or not at all in Firefox and/or Safari, that developer has failed. Period. How can you release a website that you’ve only tested on one browser?

All that said, I use a chrome-based browser (Vivaldi) on an old Mac Pro and Safari for iOS On iPad. I do not recall coming upon a site that doesn’t work in Safari or Chrome. It sounds like the sites exhibiting the bad behavior are web apps for a limited audience or for a specific company? Maybe people can link to some examples?

@Matthew I’ve been linking to some of them here. For the most part, they are mainstream, non-app-like, relatively boring sites.

I’m also seeing the same unreliability as Sören.

@michael Thanks for the link. I hope we are not returning to the days where internet explorer had its own world of compatibility and standards were ignored by the dominant player in the browser wars.

Kevin Schumacher

@Matthew "More and more web usage is mobile now, and at least in the US, that overwhelmingly means Safari."

I wouldn't say overwhelmingly. Specifically in the US smartphone market, mobile Safari is just above 50% while mobile Chrome is at about 40%. Significant difference, but it's not a disparity like the worldwide marketshare for smartphones, where mobile Safari is 20-30% and mobile Chrome is over double that. Tablets might be either way (one major stats provider says 60-25 Safari-Chrome, the other says 53-35 Chrome-Safari).

I think I'm the last web developer using Firefox, but there's something I just never liked about using Google products. They always felt crude even if they had good data (maps) that made them more enjoyable to use.

I used to love Safari throughout the 00's, but now only use it to pay for things using Apple Pay. I've seen a lot of the same stuff Sören has... some pages will just never load, completely at random. Meanwhile I can launch Firefox, paste the url in and have all of the resources loaded well before Safari errors out.

The changes to the extensions API is what really killed Safari for me. uBlock origin was discontinued and then LastPass got a whole lot worse than it already was, requiring the Mac app to be running or else it wouldn't work.

It goes both ways, Chrome used to be slower on Mac, but after years of complaining Chrome is now slightly faster, ( but also more resources intensive ) Safari has actually gotten slower over the past 2 years. I felt Apple might have leans towards lowest energy possible a little too much.

Sören Nils Kuklau: “Stuff like pasting a URL into the address bar, hitting return, then seeing Safari load the old page again.“

I thought this was just me, because surely a bug like this couldn’t remain for so long. When developing sites I’m often manually changing the URL and hitting return, only to have the URL revert back and load the previous page. Over and over and over again. Now, after tweaking the URL, I always go to the end and add a space, which makes it “take” and the new page actually loads. It’s maddening.

>Unfortunately, some sites don’t adequately test with Safari.

Testing with Safari is no longer worth it to us. The additional effort of fixing Safari-specific bugs has grown steadily over the past five or so years, while overall marketshare has gone down. It sucks, I've argued for supporting it for as long as possible, but it's just not worth the effort anymore.

Apple either needs to get its shit together, or kill Safari, ship with a working third-party browser, and admit that it anyways wants people to write native code.

Sören Nils Kuklau

I thought this was just me,


*fistbumps fellow broken URL bar haver*

because surely a bug like this couldn’t remain for so long. When developing sites I’m often manually changing the URL and hitting return, only to have the URL revert back and load the previous page.

It doesn’t happen 100% of the time (I just tried to reproduce it and couldn’t), but often enough that I’ve started training myself to copy the URL before hitting return, just so I don’t have to type it again. Eww.

If someone has an idea how to reproduce this or a workaround, I would love that.

For me Chrome is significantly slower than Safari. I do a simple test: open up a youtube video, switch from auto to 1080p and tap on full screen button. The animation is very clunky and slow for me in Chrome. It's perfectly fine with the same video in Safari, and there is a little bit of a slowdown in Firefox. Tested on 2017 iMac with i7700, running on the latest version of Catalina, and all browsers are updated to latest versions.

@Eugene That doesn’t seem like it would be related to general page rendering speed.

@Michael, I agree with the comments above, about compatibility. But those things usually don't bother me, and being on the desktop computer I'm not concerned about battery life. But those youtube slowdowns in Chrome irritate me quite a bit. It's always slow, and sometimes it can become even slower for no apparent reason. My apologies if these comments were too much off the topic, please feel free to remove them.

I used to be a Chrome user but now I avoid it simply because opening ONE tab in Chrome often shoots my CPU up to 25% or more, while I can have 10+ tabs open in Safari and it's only at 5% CPU. This is on a lowly 2014 MBP. Chrome is a hog. When I'm on battery I won't even consider it.

Sami from Toronto, Canada

I have a MacBook Air 2018, and even with a fresh install of MacOS be it Spotlight indexing in the brackground or not, Safari lags very much. Even for some reason despite the wireless netwrok, the Apple order webstore refuses to load on Sadfari, but loads fine on my iPhone, Mac Chrome and Firefox. My two extensions (Honey and Grammarly) shouldn't be an issue. Rather sad that MacOS has gotten less and less reliable over the years since Snow Leopard.

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