When you use a browser, you are accessing the Internet the way people have since the technology’s introduction. Bookmarks, windows, tabs, URL bar, back and forward navigation as well as the reload button have all been standard UI features for the past 20 years. But the Internet has evolved, and so has the way we use it and the devices we use it on. So, why shouldn’t the experience of browsing the Internet change as well?
Enter Opera’s new browser, Coast. Dutch designer Huib Kleinhout has leapfrogged to the next stage of interface development. He and the team at Opera threw out two decades of preconceptions about what a browser should be by locking themselves in a room and refusing to emerge until they had answered the question, “What should a tablet browser be?”
We caught up with Huib and asked him about his built-from-scratch, tablet-specific browser.
What made you want to create a product like this? What was the inspiration?
I realized that we were stuck, that [browser] technology didn’t evolve and the user experience hadn’t evolved. I really wanted to start from scratch and just start making a browser for the web that is now, for the way that people use the Internet now, which is through tablets and mobile phones, and not keyboards and mice.
The default browser on the iPad doesn’t feel that great. Small buttons and flickering content, we wanted to make something that looks nicer, and feels like an app not a legacy browser. I think we achieved that with Coast. You have an interface that you can control with swipes everywhere. You can swipe down the search fields. You can swipe down your favorite sites, all easy gestures on the touch screen.
Everything is animated with smooth transitions. It feels light and it feels fun to drag things around. That is the uncomplicated experience that we wanted to create. You can do the same things that you can do with a traditional browser without all the clumsy old technology, which we think is useless baggage.
Technically, how did you approach Coast? Is it just a skin over traditional browser?
No. We built everything from the ground up, with the goal of making browser interfaces and experiences a lot simpler and smoother. For example, Coast remembers where a user was on a site when they reload it, and even if they restart the application, it remembers their location and brings up new content. We also got rid of many of the technical buttons that you have in a traditional browser and put them under the hood.
What was the inspiration for the design and the user interface?
One of the important visions behind Coast is to allow for the creation of quality content. Websites really define what kind of user experience they want surfers to have. We want to give these sites the full screen real estate, so they can determine themselves how they appear to the user. The only part of Coast’s design that you see on the page is the back bar and the little buttons along the bottom. They’re not dominant. The rest is just the website.
If you could say that there is a central flaw with modern browsers, what would it be? How does Coast attempt to fix that?
The user experience today is so focused on this old technology. The fact that the user has tabs and bookmarks and Internet addresses — all these technical details are not important takes away from the overall browsing experience. The only thing the user want to do is to check his or her Facebook status, or check the weather, or see what’s on TV. The user is not interested in managing technology. We have solved all that by putting technology in the background.
I think that from a designer’s point of view the biggest achievement that you can have when tackling an already existing product is to make it simpler.
From our experience with Coast, it is clear that Huib and the team at Opera have built an intuitive browser made for tablet users. It is extremely easy to use, simple and functional which makes for a pleasurable browsing experience that we will keep on our iPads for quite some time.