Coast for iPad has quietly landed on the App Store, and it’s going to change the way that you think about using the web on a mobile device. It’s from the gang at Opera and while it doesn’t replace Opera – it’s being called an experiment – it stomps all over some of the basic concepts or a browser UX and could just be the kind of thing that shakes up the marketplace for everyone.
It might be more apropos to say that Coast doesn’t replace Opera … yet.
The biggest and most visible change is that there is virtually no chrome on the screen at all. No back buttons, no share buttons, no search button, no URL, pretty much no nothin’. There is the standard iOS status bar at the top and a grand total of two small screen buttons at the bottom. One takes you “home” – although this would be more properly called a “hub” with your bookmarks, history, and search functions all sharing this space – and the other breaks out and lets you navigate between your current open pages. The pages are shows in the old iOS 6 side-by-side format instead of the new iOS 7 card stack but since Coast uses the WebKit engine for all of it’s display and connectivity functions it will be interesting to see if this swaps over to the iOS 7 standard later this month. Unfortunately, I am not using iOS 7 on my iPad and there is no version of Coast for pocket iOS devices so … who knows.
Once you get past the initial fumbling around you will find that Coast is not easy and fun, it’s also seamless and elegant. The page is all content and the device just sort of fades away from your consciousness. It gives browsing the same transparent and natural feel that you get when you read a book on a really good e-reader. And despite having to go to the “home/hub/whatever you wanna call it” to get to all of your extended navigation functions there are no added clicks or gestures to actually do anything, and the visual presentation of those functions is more intuitive than the individual icons and buttons of a standard mobile browser. Instead of remember what this or that button does, you just remember to go home. After that everything is insanely obvious.
Personally, my favourite touch is that the single-field URL bar / search bar that is the new standard in browsers has it’s results visually broken out into two streams as you type. You still have a single input field, but the idea that you are both searching and navigating at the same time is suddenly obvious and more … human. A close second is the way that standard “tap-and-hold” functions are displayed, with a curved set of buttons that both draws the eye and intuitively suggests interaction.
And hey – “favicons” are suddenly kind of useful. Who knew?
The whole thing adds up to an experience that puts you in a state of less thinking, more doing. And doing is good. Do yourself a favour and give it a try. You might find yourself floundering. But you might also find yourself enjoying this a lot. I think the guys at Opera should stop calling this an experiment and start calling this their future.