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Apple to unveil AI-enabled Safari browser alongside new operating systems

Safari getting new AI tools in iOS 18

Apple is testing a version of its Safari web browser that includes UI tweaks, advanced content blocking features, and a new AI-powered tool dubbed Intelligent Search, AppleInsider has learned.

The software — expected to debut as Safari 18 later in 2024 — is currently undergoing evaluation alongside internal builds of Apple's next-generation operating system updates, namely iOS 18 and macOS 15, according to people familiar with the matter. Should all of the new features make it to the release candidate stage, users will be treated to a new user interface (UI) for customizing popular page controls, a "Web eraser" feature, and AI-driven content summarization tools.

Intelligent Search - AI-enhanced browsing and text summarization

Engineers evaluating the latest builds of Safari 18 can find a toggle for the new page controls menu within the browser's address bar. The menu consolidates — and provides quick access to — old and new page control tools, among them being the browser's new "Intelligent Search" feature.

A screenshot of Arc Search on iPhone with a summary of an article from AppleInsider
Safari's new intelligent browsing feature could mimic features like Arc Browser's article summary

This feature is not automatically enabled in test builds of Safari 18 and instead requires manual activation from the page controls menu. Once enabled, it's believed the tool leverages Apple's on-device AI technology — specifically the Ajax language-learning model — to identify topics and key phrases within a webpage for which to base the summarization.

In selecting key phrases, Apple's LLM software identifies sentences that provide explanations or describe the structure of objects, depending on the text in question. Words repeated within a text and key sentences are recognized as text topics.

These early indications suggest Apple is striving to deliver text summarization alongside Safari 18 later this year, though the exact implementation of this feature remains fuzzy.

Apple's text summarization features could be a response to rival generative AI tools, such as OpenAI's ChatGPT. But Apple's on-device models and technologies like Private Relay could make the experience much more secure for users. Intelligent Search is also likely to be the same AI browser assistant that one X user hinted at a couple of weeks back.

Web Eraser for better content-blocking

Also accessible from the new page controls menu is a feature Apple is testing called "Web Eraser." As its name would imply, it's designed to allow users to remove, or erase, specific portions of web pages, according to people familiar with the feature.

The feature is expected to build upon existing privacy features within Safari and will allow users to erase unwanted content from any webpage of their choosing. Users will have the option to erase banner ads, images, text or even entire page sections, all with relative ease.

A screenshot of 1Blocker's element blocking feature that removes selected parts of a webpage
Erase parts of a webpage by blocking specific HTML like an existing feature in 1Blocker

The erasure is said to be persistent, rather than limited to a browsing session. This means that Safari will remember the changes even after the original tab or window has been closed.

When visiting a web page with previously erased content, Safari will inform the user that the page has been modified to reflect their desired changes. The browser will also give the user the option to revert changes and restore the webpage to its initial, unaltered state.

As for where Apple got the inspiration for Web Eraser, the company could have Sherlocked the feature from the third-party app 1Blocker. The application features a similar way of erasing ads, where users would tap ads to make them disappear.

Updated UI will move key tools into one easy location

The new page controls menu referenced throughout this article will attempt to offer Safari 18 users quick and easy access to several options previously located across different menus and the Share Sheet. Running on pre-release versions of macOS 15, for instance, the menu also pulls in the "Aa" menu common on existing iPadOS versions of the browser. These include zoom options, webpage settings for privacy controls, content blocking options, extension shortcuts, and access to the new AI and erasure tools.

A mockup image of desktop Safari with an iPad-like menu that includes AI and erase features.
The new Safari menu will feature easier access to multiple features previously found in the Share Sheet and Address Bar

These various options existed previously on macOS, but were found by navigating through the Safari settings menu. Having all of these controls in one central location in the Address Bar will make these options more discoverable for end users. Other options like on-page text search and reader mode are also in this menu.

This all suggests Apple intends to unite the iPadOS and macOS Safari UI paradigms when it unveils its new OS releases during its Worldwide Developers Conference in June.

AI-enhanced Visual Lookup feature could be available in 2025

Simultaneously, Apple is also working on a much more powerful visual search feature scheduled for integration sometime in 2025 that will allow users to obtain information on consumer products when browsing through images. People familiar with the tool say it's similar to the Visual Lookup feature, through which Siri can identify plants, pets and landmarks from photos.

An image of a black cat with big yellow eyes in Apple Photos with text below classifying it as a 'bombay'
Visual Lookup could get an AI boost and become available across iOS

Visual Search could be implemented as a system-wide feature. So, instead of surfacing search results in the Photos app, the user may be able to use Visual Search directly in Safari by selecting an image.

Given development of this tool is in the earlier stages, it remains unclear how Apple will ultimately go about implementing it. It also remains to be seen whether or not the feature will make it through internal testing.

The iPhone maker has expressed significant interest in artificial intelligence and more recently published research related to on-device language learning models. This goes hand in hand with widespread rumors about several other AI-powered software features, many of which are expected to make their debut later this year with iOS 18.

Another big year for Safari

From its inception, Safari was always meant to rival existing web browsers.

A Flickr login screen with password auto fill shown as a pop-up
Features like built-in password tools make Safari an excellent browser option

Safari was originally added to macOS as a means of replacing Microsoft's Internet Explorer for Mac, which was the default browser. Over the years, the app made its way to the iPhone, and has since received various upgrades over the years.

More recent versions of Safari provide users with personalized web suggestions, and allow for greater privacy protection with features such as iCloud Private Relay.

This latest set of enhancements only serves to better position Safari against the competition, in an ever-increasing landscape of generative AI tools and third-party ad-blockers.

While Apple tests many such features during different development stages, it is important to remember that not all of them make it to release. Apple has been known to delay features or cancel them entirely, so there's always a chance we may not see these new Safari features after all.

Along with Safari 18 and its associated improvements, we should also see a revamped Calculator with Math Notes make its way to iPadOS 18. Freeform Scenes and Adaptive Voice Shortcuts are new OS features, which are also expected to debut later this year.

Apple is expected to introduce various AI-related enhancements as part of iOS 18 and macOS 15, both of which should be announced at the company's annual WWDC on June 10.