Safari and WebKit Applications Can Become Unresponsive When Using VoiceOver

Category
Miscellaneous
Severity
Moderate

Description

Update: macOS Sonoma 14.2 appears to have eliminated or significantly reduced the frequency of system freezes for most users.

As a result, we have decided to lower the severity rating of this entry from "Serious" to "Moderate" to reflect the improvements seen after upgrading to 14.2.

For users still on older OS versions, the original bug entry details and severity rating remain applicable. But upgrading to Sonoma 14.2 should significantly improve the browsing experience for VoiceOver users in most cases.

See the following AppleVis posts and replies for more information:


When VoiceOver is enabled on macOS, users may experience system freezes where Safari and other WebKit-based applications become completely unresponsive. During these freezes, VoiceOver repeatedly announces "Safari not responding" or "[App name] not responding."

The frequency and duration of these freezes can vary and at times it is possible to switch away from the non responsive application or restart VoiceOver to restore functionality. At its worst, the Mac is unable to be controlled and no actions can be taken until the freeze resolves itself after a period of time, often lasting multiple minutes.

These freezes occur randomly when browsing websites or using apps and dramatically reduce productivity and usability for blind VoiceOver users on Mac. The bug persists across OS versions and can occur on even high spec Macs powered by Apple Silicon.

Steps to Reproduce:

  1. Enable VoiceOver on a Mac running a recent version of macOS (Monterey, Ventura or Sonoma)
  2. Launch Safari
  3. Browse websites, especially those with complex page layouts or frequent dynamic updates
  4. At random intervals, VoiceOver will begin repeatedly speaking "Safari not responding" and the system will become unresponsive for up to several minutes

Expected Behaviour:

  • Safari, WebKit-based apps, and VoiceOver should function smoothly without extended periods of being unresponsive.

Actual Behavior:

  • VoiceOver repeatedly announces "Safari not responding"
  • System becomes unresponsive, often for multiple minutes at a time
  • Issue persists across OS versions and hardware configurations
  • Often prevents user from switching apps or restarting VoiceOver during freeze

Notes:

  • This issue also affects other applications that utilise the WebKit browser engine. The freezing and unresponsiveness is not limited to only Safari.
  • It is not uncommon for a web page to behave as expected for many visits, only to then exhibit the "not responding" behaviour seemingly spontaneously and without any change to its content or method of access. Pages that worked fine previously may suddenly trigger a freeze.
  • This issue is not limited to complex or large web pages. It can also occur on relatively simple web pages with basic content, text and layout. Even web pages with minimal elements can randomly cause VoiceOver to freeze and become unresponsive.

Bug First Encountered

macOS 11.1

How often the bug occurs

Sometimes
Apple feedback #
FB13264468

Status

Active

Options

Comments

By Maldalain

4 months 1 week ago

Can anyone provide a website where this issue can be re-produced? Apple Accessibility Team has sent me asking for a list of those sites.

By David Goodwin

4 months 1 week ago

Member of the AppleVis Editorial Team

Based on reports from many users, one of the major challenges in providing reproducible steps to Apple is that the "Safari not responding" behaviour seemingly occurs spontaneously and sporadically.

In my own experience, I've visited web pages dozens of times with no issues, only to have VoiceOver suddenly freeze on a page I've used many times before. There seems to be no consistent pattern to when or why the freezing occurs. A page that triggered it yesterday may work fine today.

The randomness and unpredictability of the freezing is one of the most frustrating aspects of the bug. Just know that it can happen on any page, simple or complex, and that may have worked fine before.

Of course, I would love to hear from anyone who does have web pages where this behaviour can be consistently reproduced, as a list of sites would help Apple engineers investigate further.

By PaulMartz

4 months 1 week ago

Member of the AppleVis Blog Team

I still had some residual eyesight when I first encountered this issue. It's worth noting that, when the bug is encountered, VoiceOver doesn't prevent sighted users from interacting with the website content. Links work, scrolling works, form fields can be filled out, all using keyboard and mouse. However, any VoiceOver navigation commands are ignored.

By Brian

4 months 1 week ago

Check out websites like MSNBC.com and CNN.com. Also YouTube can sometimes reproduce this. You can also check out gaming websites. If their are a crapton of videos and animations and other dynamic content, it can reproduce this issue.

HTH.

By The Oliver Kennett

4 months 1 week ago

Yeah, I was going to ad BBC News, any data rich and rapidly updating site does seem to be the key but, quite naturally, I can't find a site that is doing it now and, for the last day or so, voiceover has ben better behaved. It may have noticed I was visiting the ASUS website and looking at the S13...

So, in short, threaten voiceover with replacement and it will behave. Simple.

By Tyler

4 months 1 week ago

Member of the AppleVis Editorial Team

For those regularly experiencing this bug and in contact with Apple about it, if you haven't already, it may be helpful to capture a sysdiagnose while a webpage is unresponsive. This could give engineers a snapshot into the activity of the Mac as the issue is happening, which could, at least in theory, point to a specific cause of this behavior. To do this, when you hear the announcement that "Safari is not responding," press Control-Option-Command-Shift-Period. If you're running a beta version of macOS, you should get a notification offering to start a feedback report once the file has been created, or you can locate the file manually whether you're running a beta or not in Finder by choosing Go > Go to folder (or pressing Command-Shift-G) and typing "/private/var/tmp" without the quotes.

By Maldalain

4 months 1 week ago

I have been contacted by Apple, and in the first instance they asked for logs to be reported to them along with time stamps. I have already done this. In the second instance, they requested to send them list of websites of where the issue can be triggered. I explained to them a rather weird issue when this issue happens, that the activity monitor demonstrate high power consumption by VoiceOver, the only way to reduce that to normal is to switch VoiceOver off then on, the same procedure to get the power consumption by VoiceOver to normal is also useful to get rid of the Not Responding Safari message. Now this makes sense that I observed when the issue happens my Mac uses more energy and I can confirm this as the percentage of available power is lower 1% each two to four minutes, even if no work at all is done with the Mac. Also this high consumption power is not reported in the power status in the Status Menu. So it seems that even the OS is not aware of what is happening. Now Apple has the logs and has every tiny bit of details, they should sort this out.

By Jason White

4 months 1 week ago

Ctrl-Option-Command-Shift-dot (i.e., the key to press with the modifiers held down is the full stop, period, character)
This is especially useful to those in the beta program, but anyone can run it.

Without this kind of detail, Apple's developers probably won't be able to reproduce and fix the bugs.

By PaulMartz

4 months 1 week ago

Member of the AppleVis Blog Team

Over in the "we deserve better" thread, you can find my bug report posted as a comment. I cited the problem URL as one of their own Apple Support pages. But as we all know after two years of discussion, it can happen, or not happen, pretty much anywhere.

By Voracious P. Brain

4 months 1 week ago

Hey guys, fancy finding y'all here. On one of the other threads, somebody mentioned keeping the touchpad commander on with headings and flicking down when Safari goes on holiday. I'll be jiggered if that doesn't seem to work. I've tried it twice so far on seemingly never-ending freezes. Of course, now I've jynxed it.

I just sent my first sysdiagnose off. I don't hold out much hope, given the comment above that the OS doesn't seem to know it's happening and Apple's requirement to be provided with a site where it happens consistently. My "To reproduce:" line to them suggested assigning someone to actually use VO on a regular basis and listen for the profane outbursts from down the hall.

By Ekaj

4 months 1 week ago

Hi everyone. I just successfully registered on the WebKit website as suggested in another thread on here. It looks to be pretty accessible with VO, but a bit daunting for a non-programmer like myself. I'm wondering if any of you are aware of a beginners' guide anywhere? Having said all that, I have now again switched my default web browser to Chrome and am going to keep it that way at least for the time being. For me Safari on the Mac is misbehaving only some of the time, and again it seems to occur at random intervals. But I will definitely start sending sys-diagnose files to Apple and see what happens. I believe Dean Hudson from Accessibility is a VO user.

By Voracious P. Brain

4 months 1 week ago

So... Bearing in mind that I can reproduce this, and just did, literally a dozen times in fifteen minutes, it seems as if, on my machine, pressing *any* VO key that tells VO to reconnect with the accessibility API gets Safari unstuck. That's just a surmise; but, when Safari checks out, pressing VO+command+h or even just VO+right gets things back on track for me. Looking forward to others' experiences. I feel pretty stupid, honestly. I'm going to say that this is a recent behavior, since I know I've pounded away at every possible key combination for like ten years whenever it stops responding, and the issue itself has gotten way, way longer and more ubiquitous for me lately. Maybe the bug is multi-causal and what I'm doing works around one manifestation of it but won't work for other types of instances in the end. Either way, it doesn't let Apple off the hook. In fact, I just gave myself a warm fuzzy at the thought of Apple software engineers suspended on hooks.
Spitballing here, but I wonder if it has to do with VO trying to wolf down too much from the API on page load under some mysterious circumstance, but telling it to grab a particular smaller element unclogs it. Do I know what I'm talking about? No, no I do not.

By PaulMartz

4 months 1 week ago

Member of the AppleVis Blog Team

Agreed. I've had success using any VO command (such as jumping to header with VO+H) to break the deadlock. Safari/VO snaps back to life half a second after the keypress. That being said, I've seen a wide range of severity for this issue over the years, from mild to my system being completely unresponsive while VoiceOver and Safari go smoke a cigarette.

Also, when pressing something like VO+H to jump to a header, note that even if it does break the deadlock, the VO+H command itself is ignored - To jump to a header, you must press VO+H a second time. You might think I'm nitpicking, but it's clearly still a bug, even if this workaround were effective 100% of the time, which I suspect it isn't.

And the most important thing to remember is that Safari works fine for sighted users with a mouse. They load a page and it's immediately responsive. We should experience the same behavior.

By Brian Wooten

3 months 3 weeks ago

Just upgraded to Sonoma. It seems that the Quick Nav behavior and settings have changed. Just before I upgraded, I have been using quick Nav by toggling it on and off with left and right arrow keys. Now That doesn't seem to work. If I perform a VO Find, and try to type text in the search box, the single key navigation activates. Previously I could use VO Find and then go directly to single key navigation for tables and heading using T or H. now that is not functioning as before. Does anyone know how to restore the behavior of the arrow keys for Quick Nav single key?

By The Oliver Kennett

3 months 3 weeks ago

I'm finding that, using siri uk voice, has reduced the number of safari not responding events. I'm guessing it is an easier voice to run, previously I was using Alex.