How to Browse the Web on Your iPad

It's thin, and there's no mouse or keyboard, but the iPad boasts its own special features for Web browsing.
Image courtesy of Apple, Inc.

Tablets like the iPad have started replacing laptops for many users who want the convenience of mobile computing. But just how does Web browsing work on an iPad? Let's take a look at some of the options you have for Web browsers on the iPad, and what's different about surfing the Web on a tablet.

If you're used to using a laptop or desktop computer instead of a tablet, one of the first things you'll need to adapt to on the iPad are the unique features of mobile Web browsers. Because the iPad runs Apple iOS, browser apps resemble what you'd use on the iPhone or iPod Touch, but on a larger screen. This means that the browser fills the screen, and other apps will only interrupt it if they have priority over the browser, such as the phone or text message apps.


Before looking at the differences between browser apps, get used to the ways that browser apps work on your iPad. Here's a list of things you'll need to know:

  • The browser relies on the iPad's current data connection, whether it's a WiFi network or a mobile service provider.
  • To enter a Web address or search term, or if you're filling in a form on a Web page, tap the text box on the screen and the iPad displays its onscreen keyboard for you to use.
  • Use the Apple iOS zoom feature while viewing a Web page to make it easier to read, find information and click links. To do this, move two fingers together on the screen, pinching them together to zoom out or stretching them apart to zoom in.
  • If you often use Web sites that open pop-up windows as part of their normal function, the browser will warn you about this on each instance and ask whether you want to allow it. You can turn off this pop-up blocker in the browser's settings, but be cautious since this feature also blocks unwanted pop-ups.

Besides the functions of the browser itself, Web sites might behave differently on your iPad than on other computers. A Web site can be programmed to detect what browser you're using and load a Web page differently based on what it detects. For mobile browsers like those on the iPad, this means you could encounter a simplified version of the site. This can be a little frustrating at first if you're used to a different look and feel at a particular site. If you need to access a Web site feature you can't find on the mobile version of the page, look for a link to load the full or normal version of the page.

As with other Apple products, Safari is the default Web browser on the iPad. For many users, this browser will have all the features needed to browse the Web effectively. If you want to try other browser apps, though, there are a lot to choose from at the App Store. Next, let's look at some of these browser alternatives as well as some of the challenges you might encounter when surfing the Web on an iPad.


iPad Internet Connection

When you initially purchase your iPad, you have a choice of a WiFi-only model, or WiFi plus 3G service. The 3G service is sold separately, and as of August 2011, you have a choice of two carriers, which we'll explore further below.

The WiFi-only iPad is a good option for people who have ready access to a WiFi signal most of the time. If you have a wireless router at home or work, or if you normally frequent places with wireless hotspots, this model may be ideal. The WiFi-only model is cheaper than its 3G-enabled counterpart, starting at $499 for the 16 GB model. The 32 GB iPad is priced at $599, and the 64 GB is $699.


If your travels with your mobile device frequently take you out of range of WiFi hotspots, the iPad model with WiFi plus 3G service offers you additional flexibility. That flexibility comes at a higher cost. As of this writing, to purchase an iPad capable of using the 3G network, you'll pay $629 for the 16 GB model, $729 for 32 GB and $829 for 64 GB. Cellular 3G network service is available with either AT&T or Verizon. You'll also have to pay a monthly fee for your data plan, so be sure to check into these costs when deciding how you'd like to access the Internet with your iPad. If you choose a model with 3G access enabled, be sure to purchase the correct tablet for your carrier. An iPad set up to work with the AT&T network will not work on Verizon, and vice versa.

For additional information on WiFi and 3G service for your iPad, be sure to check out our article How the iPad Works.

Now that you've learned about your connectivity options, it's time to look at browser apps you can install on you iPad.


Using Safari on the iPad

If you have a printer on your wireless network, you can print Web pages from the iPad Safari browser.
Screen capture by HowStuffWorks staff

All iPads ship with Apple's Safari browser already installed, just like other Apple devices that can access the Internet. Apple continues optimizing Safari for use on an iPad. For example, Safari for iOS 5, scheduled for release in fall 2011, adds tabbed browsing to the mobile experience, a feature that's already part of Safari on Macs and PCs [source: Apple].

Safari on the iPad is fairly intuitive to use. Just like with any other app, a quick tap on the Safari browser icon opens the app. Here are some tips on browsing with Safari:


  • Quickly double tap anything on a page to zoom in to that spot. A subsequent double tap will zoom you back out to your original view.
  • Tap a link to follow it, or tap and hold it to open up a menu of other options, like opening the link in a new page.
  • Click the small icon to the left of the URL text box that looks like a rectangle with an arrow in it. This will open up options to add a bookmark, send the link through e-mail, print the page, or add the link to your home screen as an icon for rapid access.

Many users stick with Safari as their default browser, but there are plenty of options available for users who want to expand their tablet's Web browsing horizons. The following are some other browser apps you might want to try, along with their features for improving iPad Web surfing:

  • Atomic Browser -- Browse in full screen mode, load multiple pages simultaneously in different tabs and access data from your Dropbox storage.
  • Browser Duo -- View two separate Web pages side-by-side while holding your iPad horizontally.
  • Grazing Web Browser -- Graze through your favorite sites by loading them in tabs on a space-saving sidebar.
  • iLunascape -- Access the tabs and buttons you use most often at the bottom of the screen, where your thumbs typically rest when holding a tablet.
  • Safe Browser -- Set content filtering for kids of different ages.
  • Switch -- Let multiple iPad users each have their own personal password-protected browsing experience.
  • Terra -- Password-protect the app itself to prevent unauthorized use, and enable Private Browsing to prevent storing information about the sites you visit.
  • iCab Mobile -- Packed with many of the features listed above, all in one app.

As you dive in with your iPad, no matter which browser you use, the experience will be quite different from a computer. Though you always have the option to dock the iPad, adding a keyboard and touchpad when you're staying in one place for a while, you're probably using the iPad for its mobility with nothing else attached. That means tapping and swiping on the screen replaces the mouse, and an onscreen keyboard replaces the tactile feedback of clicking computer keys. Consequently, your browsing might be more error prone on the iPad, especially while you're new to it [source: Kidman].

In this article, we've tapped into the unique aspects of using the Web on your iPad. Check out the next page for more on iPad Web browsing.


Lots More Information

Related Articles

More Great Links

  • Aamoth, Doug. "Top 10 Alternative iPad Web Browsers." Time Techland. Time, Inc. Dec. 22, 2010. (July 27, 2011)
  • App Chronicles. "3 iPad Alternative Browsers to Safari for a Richer Internet Experience." Apr. 26, 2010. (July 27, 2011)
  • Apple. "iOS 5 Features, Safari." (July 29, 2011)
  • Apple. "iPad, From the App Store." (July 28, 2011)
  • Apple. "iPad, Safari." (July 29, 2011)
  • Kidman, Angus. "Study Suggests iPad Browsing Less Effective Than Using Apps." Lifehacker. Allure Media. July 8, 2011. (July 28, 2011)