Web Development

The Sad State of Apple's Safari browser extensions

Zeno Popovici

Zeno Popovici

Safari has always been my browser of choice. I love the integrated “Reading List”, the “Reader View” that makes reading articles to much more enjoyable, the silky smooth interface, the speed, but most of all the power management features that keep me going for a long time before I have to plug-in.

I remember being filled with excitement, thinking this would change everything.

I started developing browser extensions back in 2010. When Apple announced Safari 5 with HTML extension support, I remember being filled with excitement, thinking this would change everything.

I spent that weekend writing my first Safari Extension, an ad blocker for Facebook. Generating all the needed icons and graphics needed for the gallery was the hardest part. I’m not a designer, and I must confess it was ugly. But it did the job, in fact, there’s a healthy user base still using it today.

Sending extension updates via e-mail? How did anyone at Apple think this was OK?

The submission process was crude, it felt that everything was managed manually, there was no possibility to edit or delete your extension after it was published and it took 3 months just to get it into the Gallery. The Gallery itself had no search function and was nothing more than a glorified static HTML page.

This is part of the email message I received after my extension was accepted:

Unfortunately, more often than not, like in no other professional trade, programmers are quick to cut corners to meet the ends with a low regard for code quality which will most of the time create problems later on.

Here’s what you can do to make sure you’re giving your job the due respect:

Have some manners (standards)

"If you need to update your extension listing on the Gallery (description, name, icon…), please email [email protected] and include the requested changes in your message."

The last part really bothered me back then. I mean, sending updates via e-mail? How did anyone at Apple think this was OK? After my extension was published, I didn’t give it further thought. The extension was easy to update via a *.plist file on my server and I didn’t really need to update the description or graphics.

Five years later, almost nothing has changed. There is basically no support offered via your paid developer subscription.

Five years later, almost nothing has changed. Yes, the gallery has now a search function and advanced filters, and starting with last September, extensions are hosted by Apple, but everything else is the same.

Last year they started charging for the Safari Developer Program, but there is basically no support offered via your paid developer subscription. They just redirect you to [email protected]

The only way to update your extension nowadays is to submit is as a new extension via a plain HTML form. There is no status page, no interface in your developer account where you can manage them. I‘ve submitted updates to my three extensions in November. I did get a reply for non-compliance for one of them last week. For the others, I have no idea what’s happening.

When I used the Chrome Web Store for the first time as developer, I wept tears of joy.

When I ported my extension to Chrome back in 2011, I didn’t know what to expect. But, when I used the Chrome Web Store for the first time as developer, I wept tears of joy.

The experience with the Chrome Web Store is amazing. You can edit and submit different versions for your extensions, test your release on a subset of users, access realtime analytics with the Google Analytics integration, and when you submit a different version, all your information is autocompleted.

The rating system is well thought of and treats you fairly. Every time I get a new positive review or push an update, I get a slight bump in users. My Chrome extension has passed now 21.790 weekly users.

The Safari Developer Program is a sad joke when comparing it to the Chrome Web Store, and I suspect that this also is part of the reason why so few developers are writing or maintaining decent Safari extensions. The only maintained extensions are the ones belonging to well known web services, that have to build one, to get services delivered to the users.

I can’t really imagine why Apple would launch such an important feature (if you remember, it was part of Steve’s 2010 Keynote) only to abandon it later. It’s such a pain to keep my Safari extension updated. If I wouldn’t use it daily, I would have abandoned it years ago.

PS: You can check out here some of the web apps we’re playing with at Graffino.

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