Speed up the web with a Safari content blocker on the iPhone

Web pages contain many different types of content including text, images, adverts, scripts and more. Strip out what is not needed on the iPhone to save mobile data and speed up web browsing.

What is a content blocker?

A content blocker is a special sort of extension for Safari on the iPhone and iPad and it acts like a filter, allowing some content through but blocking unwanted types of content.

A content blocker could block images for example and this means that web pages would be faster to display because there are no bulky picture files to download. It would also mean that less mobile data is required to display a web page, which could be important if the data limit is quite low on your phone contract.

Content blockers can also be used to prevent adverts from appearing on web pages, which again speeds up web pages and reduces data used. They can block tracking scripts used by websites, advertisers and others to track you as you browse the web, which increases your privacy and anonymity.

Install and enable Safari content blockers

Open Settings > Safari > Extensions and then press More Extensions. The App Store opens and displays Safari extensions. There is a Content Blockers section that contains a collection of content blocking add-ons for Safari, but not every app appears here. There are more content blockers, like ad and tracker blockers, in the Top Free section.

Extensions settings in Safari on the iPhone: Screenshot
Access extensions in Safari for iOS

Install a content blocker and then return to Settings > Safari > Extensions where you will find one or more switches to enable or disable it. Turn on the switches for the content blockers, scroll down and enable any switches in the section below.

Safari extensions on the iPhone: Screenshot
Extensions in Safari for iOS

You must also enable another setting in Safari in order for them to work. This is confusing:

  1. Go to Settings > Safari > Extensions and enable a content blocker
  2. Go to Settings > Safari > Content Blockers and enable All Websites
Safari content blockers switch in Settings on the iPhone.
Enable a content blocker extension to access this

The Content Blockers section in Safari Settings is hidden and only appears after a content blocker extension has been enabled. Disable the extension and the Content Blockers section disappears again. Weird, and it caught me out the first time I used a content blocker.

Firefox Focus

Firefox Focus is a version of the Firefox web browser that focuses on privacy. Install it and you can use the browser to explore the web with greater privacy. Tap the hamburger icon in the bottom right corner of the screen to open a menu and then press Settings.

Firefox Focus content and tracker blocking settings on the iPhone: Screenshot
Firefox Focus content blocking also blocks in Safari

Press Tracking Protection in Settings and there are switches to enable enhanced tracking protection, advertising, analytics, social and content. This works well and adverts are hidden trackers are blocked and so on.

Firefox Focus is also listed as a Safari content blocker and it adds a Firefox Focus on/off switch to Settings > Safari > Extensions. Turn it on and adverts and trackers in Safari are blocked. Although ads were blocked, it sometimes left empty spaces on the web page where they would have been. This is a minor irritation though.

The content blocking works well in Firefox Focus browser and you get a fast, clean ad-free display of web pages, but it also works in Safari too, so you can stick with Apple’s browser if you prefer it and just ignore the Firefox Focus app.


AdGuard is a Safari content blocker for the iPhone and it is available for free, but you can also subscribe to gain access to extra features. Free Safari protection includes blocking adverts and trackers on websites. The Premium version adds DNS protection and advanced protection.

AdGuard content blocking settings in Safari extensions on the iPhone: Screenshot
Choose what to block with AdGuard

The AdGuard app has a simple on/off switch to enable/disable Safari protection. There are more options for subscribers, but I used the free version and it worked very well. Ads magically disappeared from websites. It did more than hide ads, it closed up the space they would have occupied on web pages, producing a cleaner view.

AdGuard content blocker extension for Safari on the iPhone.
AdGuard content blocker for Safari

Browsing the web with Safari and with AdGuard enabled was faster and cleaner thanks to the ad blocking features. There are multiple options in Settings > Safari > Extensions and there are switches to allow/block custom, general, other, privacy, security and social, so if you want to block some things, but allow others then you can configure that. You can also invert the function, so all sites are allowed except the ones you specify.

It is well worth adding the AdGuard extension to Safari.


BlockBear! is by TunnelBear, the company that produces the VPN of the same name. Run the app and it has a master on/off switch at the top and below are separate switches to enable or disable adverts, social buttons, tracking and fonts.

Once it was enabled in Settings > Safari > Extensions and also in the BlockBear app itself, it seemed to work fine and web pages loaded faster and without adverts. The space adverts would have occupied is still present on some web pages, but they are blank, which may leave odd empty space on some web pages, but at least there are no ads.

BlockBear ad and tracker blocker for iPhone: Screenshot
BlockBear ls, but still working well

There is an option in the app to add websites to a whitelist to allow ads and other items on selected sites and there is a button on the Share/Activities menu in Safari to add the current site.

This extension has not been updated in four years. However, it seemed to work OK and it helped to speed up the web by blocking ads and trackers in Safari.

1Blocker – Ad Blocker

1Blocker – Ad Blocker for iOS does more than just block ads and it has multiple functions. It can block adverts in web pages, trackers in web pages and trackers in apps. It can block annoyances like popup cookie notices, widgets for social media, comments and adult websites.

1Blocker content blocking app for Safari on the iPhone: Screenshot
1Blocker content blocker for iPhone

There are free and paid versions of 1Blocker and the free app lets you block web trackers or adverts in web pages. One only, not both, and it’s your choice. If you want to enable both, and block in-app trackers too, you must pay. There are three options available and I was offered a subscription for UK £14.99 (around US $18) a year or a one-time fee of £33.99.

1Blocker content blocking settings for Safari on the iPhone: Screenshot
Choose what to block in 1Blocker

Simple buttons and switches in the app enable the filters and blockers to be enabled or disabled. In Settings > Safari > Extensions is a long list of on/off switches to block ads, adult content, annoyances, comments, trackers, widgets, custom and regional rules. You can choose the things you want to filter out of web pages.

Remove ads and most sites close up the space, but accasionally sites showed empty space where ads would have been. It is only a minor irritation and 1Blocker is a good ad and tracker blocker to have on your iPhone. It is recommended.

Final thoughts

The four content blockers here all worked very well in Safari on the iPhone. 1Blocker is great, but you need to subscribe to get the best from it. It is reasonably cheap and the paid version has a lot of features.

BlockBear! has not been updated in years, but it continues to work well and it is free. Firefox Focus is more for people that want an alternative web browser. It does filter ads and trackers from Safari, but it also installs Firefox.

AdGuard is my favorite app and it did a great job of blocking adverts and trackers for free. Paying brings even more benefits and at only UK £4.99 (about US $6.10) a year or a one-off fee of £10.99, it is cheap too. It is recommended.

One thing that stood out is the number of steps required to get these content blockers working. If you try one and it is not blocking anything, you may have missed a step. Check Safari extensions, allow content blockers to work on all sites, and run the apps at least twice because once may not be enough.

Content blockers like ad blockers, cannot block everything everywhere. They work well on web pages, but may not stop ads in apps or YouTube. Some websites try to get around ad blockers and some will block you from accessing a site if they detect that you are using an ad blocker. Don’t expect content blocking apps to be perfect, there’s a war between content blockers and content publishers and neither side has won.

Leave a Reply