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Coast by Opera

The first web browser to be built from scratch, specifically for the iPad

by Largetail in Tech on 12 September 2013

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Tablets aren't smaller versions of a laptop or a computer—they're designed to be held and used in a completely different manner. So it makes no sense that most mobile version of apps tend to mimic their larger desktop counterparts. While app games have taken full advantage of the intuitive way users interact with the touch-screen, the browser—the main portal to the internet—has remained pretty much the same for the last 20 years, even with the relatively new inventions of the tablet and smartphone.

Norway-based software company Opera has always made it their mission to "bring the web to everyone" with their eponymous web browsers. Versions can even run on small, low-end computers and cellphones; being the access point to the internet for many people in developing countries. Opera continues to pursue its mission to make the internet more accessible by stripping down barriers with each new update.

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But building a browser for a tablet from scratch wasn't planned in advance by the company. It was a simple idea that suddenly struck one of Opera's designers, Huib Kleinhout: "I realized that we were kind of stuck in the browser world. Not only Opera but all browsers—Safari, Chrome, Internet Explorer—they all very much look the same. It was time to start ditching old legacies, the elements of the browser that are just historical, from the address field to the back and forward buttons and bookmarks. All of those are remaining from the old times." Kleinhout wanted to break the traditional method of scaling-down or scaling-up browsers, and create something specifically for the iPad.

Kleinhout started developing this concept on his own, in secret, for several months, giving up vacations and evenings. As soon as he presented the project to a higher manager, it was an immediate green light. "Dare to challenge, and dare to think big," Kleinhout says, "That's the kind of culture at Opera." He locked himself and a small team of designers and developers into a meeting room and focused on one main goal: "I wanted to make something for the internet as it is today."

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A year and a half later, the team finished Coast, and Cool Hunting recently had the opportunity to preview and test the app. At first launch, Coast resembles an iPhone home-screen in a familiar way. This "Speed Dial" is a collection of favorited sites, which are presented as visually appealing icons rather than conventional text-only bookmarks. Everything has been stripped—URL fields, forward and back buttons, the settings bar, tabs—which leaves more room for the actual website content. Immediately noticeable is that the browser offers more space to use on the iPad screen.

Navigating Coast is intuitive, and it took only seconds to get the hang of. Most of the experience is funneled down to swipes and taps for the smoothest browsing; for example, instead of using forward or backward buttons, you just swipe left or right. It's not natural to type on an iPad, so Coast makes sure very little typing is involved. The search bar is easily accessible, and sites, words and even domain names are suggested. Previously visited websites are easily accessed at the bottom right corner; swiping through page history becomes much more visual (as opposed to a drop down list of text). Coast also takes a new approach to safety—they've put a lot of work "under the hood" so that security checks take place in the background. Rather than the user actively checking the reputation of a site, Coast will pop up and warn you if something's fishy.

"We're not offering a browser with the best compression or one that has the most features—we're offering a browser that just fits really well with the iPad and how you use the iPad. That's how most people use their iPads: Sitting on the couch or waiting room or bed, reading the news, checking social media updates."

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Kleinhout gives an analogy: "When Apple introduced the iPad, it wasn't the first tablet on the market. Many tablets had been introduced before—they were more powerful and could do more things than the iPad, but the experience was just not optimal, you could do everything but it took a lot of steps and made it very technical and difficult to use. And what Apple did was make a user experience that's simpler and more fun to [navigate]." In a similar manner, Coast gets rid of all of the unnecessary baggage and complexities, leaving just the essentials.

In its development stages, Kleinhout temporarily named the project "Ice," indicating the browser's purpose. "The idea was that we wanted to make a browser that was transparent and invisible. We landed on 'Coast,' because it's a feeling, like cruising around and coasting, and it's also a setting, like the seaside." This innovative app from Opera understands that the basic reason people use browsers is because they are seeking content, and therefore aims to swiftly take the user to their desired destinations with the least amount of hassle. Furthermore, with Coast, CH realized it takes away the need to download a separate app for a lot of favorite websites—mainly because it's easier to read articles on this browser.

In this era of exponentially quicker hardware and software updates, with each device and app boasting more capabilities than the last, it's refreshing to have a stripped down and simple browsing experience customized for the iPad. Coast by Opera is now available for free download in the App Store.

Images courtesy of Opera, screenshots by Largetail

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