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Mobile Communications

Sidefari review: Split View web browser for iPad is convenient but limited

iOS 9 arrived this year bearing multiple gifts for iPad owners: Slide Over, Picture in Picture, and Split View allow the tablet to multitask in new ways that make the device feel more like a personal computer. Unfortunately, browsing websites in Safari remains a single-screen experience—but it doesn’t have to be.

Will the real Safari please stand up? Sidefari brings side-by-side browser windows to the iPad, with a few limitations.

Safari lite

The cleverly-named Sidefari is an iPad-only app with a singular purpose: To provide a second web browser window alongside Safari’s own, making it possible to browse different sites at the same time. It’s a neat trick, but only works with iPad Air 2, iPad mini 4, or iPad Pro, and this isn’t quite the same as running two versions of Mobile Safari at once.

Sidefari works its magic through Safari View Controller, the stripped-down browser available inside many third-party apps. That’s not necessarily a bad thing—with the iOS 9.2 update, apps like 1Password can be used with any in-app browser, even if the developer hasn’t directly added support for them.

With Sidefari open, select Safari from the list of apps running in the background to initiate side-by-side web browsing.

In fact, Sidefari includes just such an action extension for opening links from Safari and other browsers. The downside: You lose access to most of Safari’s luxuries, including favorites, bookmarks, tabs, private browsing, Handoff, and the ability to request the desktop version of a site.

Sidefari does at least offer its own history of the 50 most recent sites visited from the app, an option that can be toggled off if desired. Users can swipe to delete individual entries, or clear the entire history at once with a tap on the trash icon.

Side by side

Here’s how it works: Open Sidefari, then swipe from the right edge of the screen to pull up the list of apps running in the background. Select Safari, then slide that window to the left to enter Split View mode. Browse from one, then use the other to comparison shop or research two different sites at the same time.

On the plus side, Sidefari takes advantage of share and action extensions, as well as login details and credit cards stored in iCloud Keychain.

There’s no search option in the address field—it’s strictly for websites, throwing back a “server cannot be found” error if you forget to enter the domain extension. There are a couple of little conveniences like a Paste Clipboard shortcut, and the ability to autofill passwords or credit cards saved with iCloud Keychain; my Chase Bank login even worked, which usually requires verification for every new browser.

Users can send open Sidefari web pages to Safari by tapping the compass in the upper right corner, or share with compatible apps and action extensions. This worked flawlessly with the aforementioned 1Password, and helps make Sidefari feel more like a native second browser.

While Sidefari is worth the meager asking price, there’s still room for improvement. Built-in search would be nice, along with more intelligent handling of text entered without an extension. At the very least, the app should offer shortcut keys for the most common options, so we don’t have to hammer out “.com” like a caveman.

One big downside to Sidefari: Websites like Vudu.com (at left) that default to a mobile version can’t be switched to the desktop version.

Bottom line

Sidefari makes side-by-side web browsing a reality for late-model iPads, but lacks most of the niceties of the full Mobile Safari.

IDG Insider

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