July 7, 2014


Coming to OS X after many years as a PC power user, Chrome was the first application on my prearranged hotlist. On Windows, it had long displaced Firefox, which before it, had long displaced Internet Explorer. The only reason I even bothered with Safari when my machine arrived last December, was my curiosity as to how a Mac works out of the box; before I overcrowd it with apps. It wasn’t supposed to be a real chance.

But Safari was lightweight, surprisingly fast for browsing, easy on the battery, and slick in design. When I went back to Chrome, it felt bulky and lacked the UI cohesiveness that its Apple counterpart exhibited. That’s something I could live with, and I might have been OK with the fact that Chrome doesn’t support multi-touch gestures.

What I couldn’t tolerate was Chrome’s dramatic effect on battery life. I didn’t measure it scientifically at the time, but I didn’t need to: The difference in battery drain between Chrome and Safari was glaring. And it wasn’t within the range of a few minutes or percentages.

A few Google searches were enough to realize that I wasn’t alone: It seems that many OS X users, mainly owners of Retina MacBooks, were experiencing the same battery drain problems (to varying degrees) with Chrome. I had tried almost every suggestion in every thread that I found, but to no avail. I made the switch to Safari, which as explained, I liked better anyway.

I wasn’t going to install Flash on my system, and that was the only reason to keep Chrome around: It comes with Flash preinstalled. Sandboxed, restricted, confined Flash — the way it should be. Whenever I stumbled across a video that my Flash-less Safari couldn’t play, I’d use Federico Viticci’s macro to quickly launch its URL in Chrome.

But while Chrome’s overall battery consumption was unusual, Chrome’s battery and CPU consumption with Flash active was just crrrazy.

Update July 11, 2014: Safari started sandboxing Flash with the release of OS X Mavericks, as correctly noted by Jonas Lopes on Twitter. One key difference to keep in mind is that with Safari the player has to be downloaded and maintained regularly by the user.

All this only started to concern me two days ago, as I was streaming a World Cup match. I observed the battery life meter and it was dropping at an astonishing rate of 1% per minute. Not only that, the machine was getting really warm and the fans wouldn’t settle down. This was no longer an inconvenience, but a real concern for the longevity of my battery.

Inspecting OS X’s Activity Monitor and Chrome’s task manager, it became clear that the combination of Chrome and Flash is even more battery hungry than expected. Streaming from the same source interchangeably, Chrome’s energy impact was more than twice that of Safari’s.

Giving up videos wasn’t an option, of course, but neither was exposing my system to security flaws by installing Flash just to use it in Safari.

Relative to how fantastic the solution I found is, the search took quite some time. This isn’t the case with most obvious solutions — they tend to spread and capture the first or second spot in search results rather quickly.

This solution is an open-source, highly customizable Safari extension called ClickToPlugin, spun from Jonathan Rentzschs original ClickToFlash, and well-maintained and developed by Marc Hoyois.

The layman’s explanation to what it does with browser video players is that it attempts to load them in HTML5, a format which Safari supports. Battery consumption is (obviously) higher than with web browsing, but nowhere near the power hog that Chrome and Flash were.

I tested ClickToPlugin with several websites, including YouTube, several streaming services, and even custom players that you might see on websites like Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show. It takes a tad bit longer to load, but has worked flawlessly so far.

Appendix 1: A Provincial Rant That You May Skip

I’m especially concerned with my MacBook’s lastingness since Apple products and their respective accessories and parts cost hundreds of percents more in Israel than they do in the US, thanks to a reseller monopoly. Said monopoly wants to punish consumers who — like me — choose to buy their Apple machines abroad, either due to price or availability. Here’s the answer I got today from this company’s representative when I called to ask about a battery replacement: I can’t give you a price for a new battery until you bring it to our labs, but I can only tell you that the hourly rate at our lab is 449 NIS (around $131).

Based on some digging I did on the web, I conservatively guesstimate that two years from now, a battery replacement for a 2013 13″ Retina MacBook Pro would cost around 1,300 NIS (~$380). That’s conservative, trust me.

Appendix 2: Where Chrome Still Triumphs

I no longer need Chrome installed on my MacBook, but there are still, in my opinion, three aspects where Chrome remains superior to Safari:

  • Tab and window management (see update): You can reopen multiple closed tabs, drag a separate Chrome window into another window to turn it to a tab within it, or vice versa — drag a tab out of a certain window and turn it into an independent window. This is especially convenient when you accidentally click on Open in New Window” instead of Open in New Tab”.

    Update July 8 & 12, 2014: My pal Riccardo Mori informs me on Twitter that it is possible to drag tabs out of their windows in Safari (click, hold, drag). Later, Jordan Rose and Jared Cash explained (within seconds of each other!) that tabbing” a separate window into another is also possible, but first, one has to choose View Tab Bar in the View pane. Thanks all!

  • Web inspector: I’ve found Chrome’s web inspector (developer console) to be far superior to Safari’s — it’s faster, better at targeting certain elements, and allows you to export your changes (such as CSS changes) in a separate file.

  • Extensions: For example, although I’m sure alternatives could be found in other extensions or through AppleScripts, I do miss CoLT — a markdown compatible plugin that allows for smarter copying of links.

Hopefully Safari will catch up with these in Yosemite.

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