Extensions are among the best things about desktop web browsers. Instead of being stuck with the built-in features of Chrome, Safari, or Firefox, you can tack on extra tools such as pop-up blockers, coupon finders, automatic dark mode, and more.
Now, an iPhone and iPad app called Insight is trying to bring that same extensibility to the mobile web. The free alternative to Apple’s Safari browser comes with its own suite of extensions, and it also lets users create new ones from scratch. (Its developers say they plan to offer a for-pay “pro” version eventually.)
So far, Insight’s extension list is small but still useful. There’s an ad blocker, of course, along with a handy “Dismiss Upsells” extension that prevents websites from begging you to install their native apps. (Looking at you, Reddit.) An automatic dark mode extension forces websites to display a black background when iOS’s Dark Mode is enabled.
While the above extensions will run automatically as you browse the web, Insight also has several tools you can trigger while visiting certain websites. A set of extensions for YouTube essentially replicates the features of a $12-per-month YouTube Premium subscription, letting you skip ads, download videos for offline viewing, and view videos in picture-in-picture mode. Another extension lets you swipe over from any Amazon product listing to its corresponding price history on CamelCamelCamel. There’s even an extension for filtering recipe searches on Google so that only results from certain sites appear.
Even more intriguing than the current batch of extensions are the ones that might eventually be made by users. Insight’s extension creator lets users set up if-then statements to control what happens with certain search results or web addresses. They can then share the extensions as links for other users to install. (As a basic example, I created an extension for switching between search results from Google and Amazon. It took just a minute or two to whip up.)
Whether Insight will do more to advertise these additional user-created extensions in the future is unclear. Apple has generally barred apps from offering “store within a store” functionality on iOS, and Insight seems to avoid the appearance of store-like functionality with its current extensions, hiding uninstalled ones behind a “Getting started” section of its new-tab page.
Insight isn’t quite the first attempt to bring extensions to the mobile web. Several Android browsers have their own extension support, including Dolphin and Firefox. The long-running iOS browser iCab Mobile has its own list of extensions, or “modules,” that are included with the app, though users have to manually disable the ones they don’t want to use and cannot install any new ones. (Back in 2011, Apple forbade iCab from letting users create and share their own modules; it’s unclear whether Insight might suffer a similar fate.)
Safari also has some limited extensibility of its own. Through its “content blockers” feature, users can install third-party apps that block ads, trackers, and annoying pop-ups. (The free app Hush is a great example.) And, of course, iOS has some of its own features that might otherwise be accomplished with an extension, such as system-wide password manager integration and the ability to send web links to other apps via a share button.
Still, none of those iOS options manage to replicate the full-blown extension support that Insight is trying to offer. As with any extension platform, its long-term success will be contingent on other folks building compelling functionality using it. But if you’ve ever felt hamstrung by mobile Safari, it’s already worth checking out as an alternative.