iOS 18 Safari — biggest new features for your iPhone

iOS 18 logo on an iPhone 15 Pro
(Image credit: Future)

Safari, Apple's built-in web browser across its different devices, won't get a radical overhaul as part of iOS 18. But even just two big changes to the iPhone's default browser hint at Apple's larger strategy of leaning into machine learning and artificial intelligence.

Both major additions to Safari in iOS 18 promise to skim web pages and pull out the details you need. The idea, explains Beth Dakin, Apple's senior manager of Safari software engineering, in Apple's WWDC 2024 video is to offer "easier ways to discover content and streamline your browsing."

Even better, while the new Safari features do turn to machine learning, they're not part of the Apple Intelligence capabilities being introduced across Apple devices later this year. That means Safari's improvements will be available on more phones than just the iPhone 15 Pro and iPhone 15 Pro Max, plus whatever iPhone 16 models come out later this fall.

With that in mind, here's what to expect from iOS 18 Safari once you upgrade to the new iPhone software, whether that's when the full version comes out later this year or Apple makes the iOS 18 public beta available in July.

iOS 18 Safari: Highlights

Highlights feature in iOS 18 Safari

(Image credit: Apple)

Think of Highlights, the biggest of the two improvements to iOS 18 Safari, as a kind of hyper-focused summary tool. Instead of merely summarizing what's on the page, though, Highlights uses machine intelligence to identify the key bits on information on a particular page and calls them out in a pop-up window as you browse. 

An example Apple uses throughout its iOS 18 preview shows a web page for a hotel where Highlights has called up a window showing the hotel's location on a map, plus quick links for driving directions or placing a call to the hotel. Other examples of Highlights include Wikipedia summaries of a person, playback links for songs, or summarized reviews for a movie or TV show.

It's unclear from Apple's demo whether Highlights appear automatically in Safari, or if you need to tap a button to get the Highlights window to pop-up. Footnotes on Apple's iOS 18 summary page indicate that the feature will only work with U.S. English sites, at least initially.

iOS 18 Safari: Reader

Reader in iOS 18

(Image credit: Apple)

The Reader tool in iOS 18 Safari also picks up some summarization skills, giving you the opportunity to read a quick overview of a web page when you switch to Reader mode. Reader takes things a step further by generating a table of contents for a web article that lets you see how a page is organized. Presumably, you'll also be able to jump to specific sections of the article.

Galaxy AI tools on board the best Samsung phones add summarization features, so it's good to see them get baked into iOS 18 as well. A concise summary of a web page that you've stumbled upon can give you a better idea of what an article is about, while a table of contents can help you more easily drill down to the parts of a topic that interest you.

The summarization tools in Reader appear to be limited to English in the initial iOS 18 release, though regional support is far more extensive. Besides the U.S., Apple promises availability in Australia, Canada, Ireland, New Zealand, South Africa and the U.K.

Other Safari changes beyond the iPhone

Safari preview at WWDC 2024

(Image credit: Apple)

Safari is available across Apple's different platforms, and there are some improvements coming to the web browser that are available for Safari on other devices. Specifically, Mac users who upgrade to macOS Sequoia will get a new way of watching web-based videos with a new Video Viewer that automatically detects when there's video on a page. Video Viewer breaks that out into a separate window with its own playback controls; click away, and the viewer becomes a separate picture-in-picture window.

Along with the Highlights and Reader additions, Safari on macOS Sequoia also promises performance improvements. In fact, Apple says the updated Mac version will be the world's fastest browser, with up to four hours more battery life than Google's Chrome browser on streaming video.

iOS 18 Safari outlook

Safari's seen more substantial changes in previous iOS updates, but that's not to dismiss the importance of what Apple's doing in iOS 18. With both Highlights and Reader leaning heavily on machine learning to power their new summary tools, iOS 18 Safari offers a taste of what Apple hopes to deliver throughout the iPhone, only without the stringent system requirements that the Apple Intelligence features demand.

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Philip Michaels

Philip Michaels is a Managing Editor at Tom's Guide. He's been covering personal technology since 1999 and was in the building when Steve Jobs showed off the iPhone for the first time. He's been evaluating smartphones since that first iPhone debuted in 2007, and he's been following phone carriers and smartphone plans since 2015. He has strong opinions about Apple, the Oakland Athletics, old movies and proper butchery techniques. Follow him at @PhilipMichaels.