Opera completely rethinks the mobile browser for Apple's iPad tablet.
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Opera Software has long innovated in the browser space and, on Monday, brought its way of thinking to the Apple iPad. Though Opera already offered its traditional Opera Browser to Apple's tablet, it decided a complete overhaul was in order. Enter Coast, Opera's take on what browsing on a tablet should be all about.
Opera believes that tablets deserve better than scaled-up mobile websites, or scaled-down desktop websites. Since tablets are the most recent step in computing's ongoing evolution, the browser needs to evolve with it.
"Websites and apps today invite you to interact in new ways, but browser design for tablets has not pushed to liberate itself from the influence it has experienced from its computer and mobile phone cousins," said Huib Kleinhout, head of the Coast project at Opera Software. "On a tablet, browsers felt outdated, and that bothered me. Why? Because we make browsers for a living. We're passionate about making the Internet better."
Kleinhout's team set about taking a new approach to browsing on tablets, which is done with our fingers, not with mice or trackpads. The team actively avoided adding chrome, or browser-based framing, to Coast. Items such as the back and home button are gone, as is the Web address bar. Instead, Coast users interact with icons on the screen that resemble apps more than anything else. Coast acts very much like today's home screen on touch-based devices. For example, websites aren't listed in a bookmark folder or drop-down menu; they are stored on the app's screen as square icons.
When first booted, the browser has a search field at the top for entering Web addresses or Web searches. There are a handful of suggested websites that populate that screen, such as Digg, Gmail and YouTube. Press any of these app icons, and Coast loads the Web page. There is no gray bar at the top, along the side or across the bottom. All you see is the Web page content. There is a small control button that takes you back to the main screen, and another that reveals all the open websites. The layout is simple and direct. It takes about 30 seconds to master. Want to return to a previously visited Web page? Simply swipe back. Need to see all the open apps? Press the control button and you can see them all laid out with full-screen previews.
"I have a background in user experience and am in love with the thoroughly refined iPad, and we wanted to design an app targeting the devices of the future, not the past," said Kleinhout.
There are some limitations, of course. Due to the icon-heavy user interface, only six Web page icons sit on a given home screen. You have to swipe left and right to see additional oft-visited or favorited websites. The Web icons can be rearranged, though, which gives users drag-and-drop control over where the Web page icons appear within Coast's home screen setup.
The content looks really good. Websites appear as they do on the desktop and are rendered quickly. Video played back perfectly and with no trouble. Coast might have gotten rid of all the tiny buttons that are built into browser, but it couldn't get rid of the way Web pages themselves are designed. Sites such as CNN and The New York Times are just as busy, cluttered and full of tiny things to press as ever.
Coast was designed for the iPad. It works well in iOS version 6, but Opera didn't say if the app will receive a quick update for iOS 7, due in the next few weeks. Opera also didn't say if a version of Coast is in the works for Google's Android platform. For now, Coast is free to download via the iTunes App Store.