The changes promised in Apple’s forthcoming OS X Mountain Lion release look promising on the whole, but there’s one that makes me sad: the next major version of Safari will sport a unified address bar. Instead of two fields, one for the URL and one for search, Macworld writes that “the browser now sports a single lengthy field that can be used to type in a URL; pull up the top result in your selected search engine from a keyword or search the Web, your bookmarks and history, or within the page itself.”
Though I spend most of my time using Firefox, which still has both an address bar and a search box, I also spend a fair amount of time using Chrome which of course, popularized the concept of the unified search bar in the first place. I find the unified search bar to be a fine complement to the way I use my browser, but I still stubbornly prefer two fields up there.
Many people don’t agree, but I find that second search field to be incredibly useful. I frequently use it to ‘park’ search terms, so I can browse search results freely and then quickly return to the original query and even edit it. And, again unlike many people, I make frequent use of the specific search ‘engines’ available under that field — both ones that ship with the browser and ones that you can add yourself. Being able to scope a query specifically to Amazon, IMDB or Netflix is very useful.
However, it’s clear that this is becoming an outmoded use case for browsing. The unified search bar is the current paradigm, just as the segregated search field was in its day. In fact, from what I understand, Firefox, which originally popularized the segregated search field, is contemplating the unified search bar as well.
Though I feel quite wedded to that search field, I’m sure once it’s gone I’ll adjust just fine. It feels ingrained, but if Apple has shown us anything, it’s that the way we use computing technology is much more fluid and temporary than we might believe. We all get invested in particular ways of doing things, specific features and workflows that we think we can’t live without, but of course in the end this is all changing so fast that such habits are practically ephemeral. We adapt and move on, which I think is a good thing.