I like blog comments, not because they validate my existence, but because I have always come up with the best ideas when having conversations with others. This one made me think about what really dissatisfies me about mobile browsers today.
The browse experience was always inefficient. Surfing is probably a good word for it: a lot of hard work and falling into the cold, cold ocean in exchange for a few seconds of thrilling ride every once in a while. The desktop browser has actually evolved with RSS and Ajax-like technologies. My current experience is to have two browsers open all the time. Safari is for work stuff (this Wordpress site, some intranet items) and general browsing (searches, mostly). Firefox runs gmail, g-calendar, and bloglines (at home, add eBay). Most of these update automatically and a glance tells me when there are new items; the rest require a manual update, but I use them in the same manner, scanning through to make sure nothing has changed.
The mobile browse experience has been focused lately on “one web” views. Making the browser display any old web page as well as it can. This leads to folks thinking the iPhone has the best mobile browser out there. And a growing niche of folks who want a third device in the UMPC category to do things like browse the internet, because phones clearly cannot.
But I have just started to realize that not only are mobiles different (so it’s wrong to judge mobile browsing off desktop metrics) but everyone seems to be chasing an out of date baseline. Can those new desktop experiences of RSS feeds and Ajax-like updating inform mobile browsing? With increasing connectivity, I think yes.
So what would my mobile browser look like? Well, who knows, and to a certain degree who cares? The question is, how does it work, and how do I interact with it:
- It would be always on. Suspended doesn’t count, and I know this rules out a lot of mobile OSs. It, or some related process, needs to be up all the time.
- Access should be ubiquitous, at least on the device. I want to be able to switch to it, at the least, and preferably have some other smart access in to make it do interesting things. The google idle-screen search is the closest example now.
- Some sort of multiple-thread loading, or at least fast switching, and ajax-like technologies, should update anything open, and more importantly cache frequently used pages even when I am not looking at them right now.
- Aside from typical RSS feeds, this update-scanning should be used (or offered) for any page. Ideally, its automatic for high-visit pages. I use the NWS tabular weather page almost exclusively, and very regularly. It would be great if that was something that could be always scanned, and when I go to it the page is pre-loaded.
- It will have a page status indicator, somewhere. Probably in the device status bar, so anywhere in the phone I can notice there are updates.
- RSS or a similar technology, to go fetch those updates. Probably, it needs a server to do this for me, and literally push those to the device.
- Tell me when the screen is loaded, especially when it takes more than about 1/2 second. Lately I have been designing audible alerts around this, but they generally get descoped so you may not be seeing any. I still like it.
- Community. Share the burden of all this info with your friends and co-workers. The obvious bit is to simply send around the stuff you have found. I mean also extending your interest market to a related group, so that pre-loaded items and searches are informed by others you know; think about having all your friend’s bookmarks visible in your bookmark bar (there are ways to avoid privacy concerns). This can be done with not much overhead if the work is on the server. This all needs to be in some seamless back channel; I don’t want to be sending SMS with links.
- Extend the info seeking down into the page. On the desktop web I very frequently do on-page searches to find the exact bit of info I want. Some browsers enable this with the search field pre-loaded with whatever internet search got you there. I’d extend this a level deeper, and have the search bar visible, with a single keypress to switch from top of page to scroll through the results on-page. Another key will let you type a different search.
- Extended information processing and presentation. Take the tabular weather page. What if I was able to get an instant view of just the next few hours of data, just whatever fits conveniently on a mobile browser, formatted and sized for me? Sure, click through to get the rest, but present useful info, pre-emptively, in a mobilized format.
Yes, this is an anti-browser — or if you prefer, and un-browser — but that is much my point. The browsing experience is not something that supports mobile use. We need to move mobile apps in the right direction and break the trend that leads to heads-down interaction, or lack of use entirely.