Reinventing the Web Browser
Huib Kleinhout Head, Coast project, Opera Software
How do you see the internet experience today, versus that of five to ten years ago? Thanks to billions of internet devices, millions of miles of fiber- optic cables and many other technical revolutions, the internet has now become ubiquitous in the lives of many people. We're now entering an era where you can start forgetting where or how to connect, how to access or sync your data; internet access is becoming an assumption, and people can turn their attention to the content and services that the internet provides. Content versus visuals; which comes first on the web? The best web experience has both great content and great visuals. This has been one of our motivations in building Coast. With Coast, we are able to combine the best of both worlds: a tremendous amount of content accessible in an enjoyable and visual way. Tell us more about what inspired Coast, as well as your goals when it came to UX design. In recent years, more and more people have switched to using tablets from PCs. Next year, we may reach the point where more tablets will be sold than PCs. This marks an important shift in how people access the internet. However, the browsers developers are taking only small, incremental steps in this direction, still largely based on technological paradigms from 20 years ago. Since the internet itself and how people use it has changed so dramatically, we should take a fresh look at one of the core components of our internet experience: the browser.
If you look at where the internet is headed, you can see some important trends. Apart from the transition to touch devices, internet content has become much more interactive and app-like. In Coast, websites are therefore pretty much presented as apps. It's a new concept for browsers, but users are very familiar with the paradigm from mobile operating systems.
A third goal we focused on was simplicity. It is not just hiding stuff but rather making it work automatically in the background and out of the way. The security engine in Coast does exactly this; it runs in the background and keeps on the lookout for threats without presenting users with confusing technical information.
The user experience for Coast has been designed to support these three goals in a simple, visual and touchfocused experience. The interface is not simply a collection of controls, but every element of it has been designed in relation to the rest. Every animation in Coast has a purpose and visually explains the user what happens. The important actions are easily discoverable, and most actions can be controlled by a swipe gesture in addition to a tap, making the experience fast, fluent and fun. Where does Coast stand in relation to Opera's other browser offerings? Coast is a brand-new product offering from Opera. It provides a unique browsing experience that is tailor made for the iPad. It complements Opera's existing product offering on iOS, Opera Mini, and we believe it's a great way to introduce browser innovation. Are there any lessons learned from the making of Coast that you've applied elsewhere within Opera? Several other projects in Opera have already taken over parts of the code base, algorithms, visual designs or intellectual property developed by the Coast team. You might recognize the Coast influence in upcoming product releases. Coast is one of the many innovative projects that Opera has initiated through the years. Some of these projects, like Opera Mini, have become a large commercial success, and most of them have contributed to keeping the spirit and drive for disruption alive at Opera. What can you tell us about the challenges in bringing Coast to life? The biggest challenge has probably been the one we couldn't fully control: the iOS development environment. Though iOS provides an excellent platform for beautiful apps we often needed to push the limits -- particular to the performance of the rendering component (WebKit) that all iOS browsers are required to use.
The most notable non-platform challenge has been to design and implement a user experience that is seamless, coherent and entertaining. The UX designers have rendered at least a thousand full-featured movies of the UI. From those, only a subset has actually been implemented. Through usability testing, the best implementations were selected and tweaked to make it into the product. This was a long, iterative process with lots of trial and error.
The most challenging technical task has probably been to display each site as one single tile in the interface. This requires Coast to have a semantical interpretation of what a "site" is, based on technical features such as the URLs, icons and server properties. While this is easy for many sites, it isn't for many particular popular services. We've developed an advanced web-appdetection engine that detects and categorizes the sites as you visit them. This engine is a cornerstone of the interface's simplicity.