Use Safari Reader Mode for Improved Mobile Web Browsing & Reading on iPhone

May 29, 2014 - 9 Comments

Safari Safari Reader mode simplifies the appearance of web pages by attempting to render only a pages primary article text into a minimalistic focused view. This can be helpful when reading much of whats found on the web on any iOS device, but it’s particularly useful on the iPhone since many websites don’t have an optimized mobile reading experience appropriate for small screens. Not only does it make reading easier on the eyes by boosting the font size and legibility of text found on the page, but it also can turn a non-mobile version of a website into a completely tolerable mobile version, offering significant improvements to the web reading experience in iOS.

Entering into Reader Mode of Safari in iOS

The Reader feature in Safari is easy to use, though like many other things in modern incarnations of iOS, it’s not necessarily the most obvious thing in the world:

  1. Open Safari and browse to any web page as usual, this very page will work as suitable example, just be sure the various navigation buttons and elements are visible to be able to access the Reader button
  2. Tap on the little four-lined button in the upper left corner (best visualized, as shown below) to enter into Reader mode of Safari
  3. Enter Safari Reader mode in iOS

Reader Mode takes over immediately, applying it’s own intelligent stylesheet to whatever webpage is active, stripping out most things to focus primarily on the text and in-article images. As a general rule, Reader works best on article pages, and not on home pages of websites.

Here’s an example of using Safari’s Reader feature on a webpage that isn’t completely optimized well for the mobile reading experience of an iPhone screen, notice the font size before is really small and challenging to read, whereas the font and image becomes the primary focus, with the text size increasing dramatically and the webpage itself becomes more centered around the article (and the tasty looking food image):

Use Safari Reader on an iPhone

Speaking of page text, if you want to increase the text size of webpages rendered within Safari Reader Mode, you’ll need to turn to the broader iOS system setting of adjusting font size. Also, note the Reader font is impacted by using bold text in iOS, so if you use that feature you’ll see the fonts rendered in Reader as bolded as well. That’s a recent change that arrived in iOS 7, as past versions of iOS allowed users to manually adjust the font size through the Reader function itself without having to make other usability adjustments, a nice feature that we hope will return to future versions of Safari and upcoming versions of the Reader function, perhaps in iOS 8 or otherwise.

The Reader function even works on mobile-optimized sites (like OSXDaily.com), though the difference is much less obvious since a well optimized mobile experience will emphasize the webpage text and images anyway. Here’s what it may look like though:

Safari Reader mode on a mobile optimized site on the iPhone

Of course, another potential perk to using Safari Reader Mode is that it will also strip down unnecessary page content, further adding to a simplified mobile reading experience, as the feature removes stylizing, unassociated images, custom fonts, ads, social sharing buttons, and much else that can otherwise just distract from a webpage. Those changes can make Reader a particularly nice feature to use if you’re simply wanting to focus on an article and want to tone down some of the surrounding stuff on the web. These latter side effects also may be what makes it most usable on something like an iPad (or even a Mac, where the feature exists too), but generally speaking the experience is best on smaller screened devices like the iPhone and iPod touch.

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Posted by: Paul Horowitz in iPad, iPhone, Tips & Tricks

9 Comments

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  1. Steve McQueen says:

    I use Reader often, I do wish the new version allowed font size adjustment though without going to system settings.

    Oh and nice screen shots, making me hungry!

  2. Tim H says:

    1. You don’t mention that Reader mode’s font, or typeface, is completely unchangeable – there is no user setting, you’re stuck with the built-in sans-serif Apple has chosen for you. (Another thing one hopes will change with iOS 8.)
    2. The “4 lines” icon is present by default; if you tap on the URL as you suggest, the Reader button actually goes away, and you enter URL-editing mode.

    Thanks for the article – I love this function and also use It on Safari for Mac – it is a feature which is lacking in Google Chrome – preaumably because it does away with the ads, Google’s chief source of revenue.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Hi Paul, I love your site and check it at least once a day for inspiring tips and tricks.

    I’m sure you’ve heard of the recent TrueCrypt debacle. In light of that, could you recommend any open source encryption tools that incorporate some TC features such as plausible deniability and hidden containers?

    Linux has several but I don’t think the more interesting ones are Mac compatible.

    Any tips or leads would be much appreciated. Perhaps it could form the basis for another article?

    • Paul says:

      Thanks for the kind words! Encryption is always a good topic. I’ll keep an eye out for various Mac alternatives now that it sounds like TrueCrypt will no longer be developed, that’s really too bad because TC had some great features as you mention.

      In the meantime, those who are inclined to prefer secure environments will usually find it to be a good idea to use FileVault full disk encryption as well as encrypted disk images for their extra sensitive documents. I’ve seen some users employ a plain-sight strategy for storing their encrypted disk images, keeping them in their ~/Downloads folder along with a bunch of other disk image files, and naming them something boring like “InstallMacBookAir-FirmwareUpdate3.1.dmg”, by no means is that perfect but it could certainly cause the average snoop to overlook such a thing.

  4. ecca says:

    Thanks for the hint.

    You forgot to mention that: ‘The biggest drawback to this Reader feature is that it is not available on all web pages. You don’t have to guess whether a page is compatible with Reader, as the icon only will appear on pages that support the feature.’ (tuaw.com)

  5. Thomas M. says:

    Thanks for your great page with so many hints!
    I like the nice feature that when I mail an article from within Safari with Reader Mode enabled, it inserts into the mail the hole text (and not only the link like otherwise)… :)

    I would like to see this feature (the Reader Mode) also in the built in Webpage-Reader of the Facebook and Twitter Apps…

  6. Nelson Byrne says:

    How does one get the 4-line button? My iPhone shows only three lines, none of them reader.

    • Hta says:

      You’ll need to be on a modern version of iOS (7.0 or newer) and it becomes visible in the Safari URL / Search bar when it’s visible on a webpage.

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