I got inspired by the iTunes sidebar today to mock up a browser interface that I had thought about for the last few weeks. In iTunes, a ‘hub application’ approach is taken to music and video content, simplifying and streamlining the experience from acquiring content, to organising and viewing it. I am aware of several ‘new generation’ browser projects, but none really line up with my ideas.
Let me show you what I came up with.
For the average internet’s user, using a browser isn’t merely parsing HTML anymore; we stay on top of news and social ‘updates’ like blogs, RSS feeds, and services like Twitter. We create and share imagery or photos. A massive market has arose in serving and viewing video content. In short; these days, using a browser doesn’t necessarily mean the user is going to want to view a website anymore.
In iTunes, the key to unifying a universe of very different content is a set of groups in the sidebar. This approach allows a very intuitive way of interacting with the main view; there’s just a single window to worry about, and when in doubt, the sidebar explains anything you might want to know. Where do I drag this object? Where could that file have gone? Where am I in the application’s structure?
A screenshot of my dream browser. Click for larger on flickr.
In my interface mockup, I got rid of the notion of tabs, and present websites in the ‘website’ group, the most important sidebar item. The items in the sidebar are relatively limited; your open pages, a control to open a new page, and your favorites, which invokes a list of your favorites in the main view. Again, there’s no way to get confused how you got to your favorites list and how you switch back to a website; it’s all in the place you know you have to look.
As you can notice, the sidebar contains groups for managing and using ‘features’ of everyday websites; news, photos, and videos. If this application were ever to become a reality, I’d suggest the sidebar to be extendible openly; imagine the same, unified interface to all your possible needs. An addition could be made to allow the easy tracking and viewing of classifieds and auction bids, or for working with online maps. The possibilities are virtually endless.
I suggest that in a browser, news is something that should be something that can be achieved independently of sources. The sidebar of my mockup contains the Frontpage feature, a Newsmap-style diverse ‘paper’, composed of high ranking recent news items laid out automatically in a newspaper-like arrangement. The content aggregation is quite similar to Google’s News service. The ‘Recent news’ feature shows the most recent news from credible sources, updated in real time. Lastly, there’s our classic RSS subscriptions, which I don’t think requires any further explanation.
Weren’t you ever bothered by a (perhaps intentionally) crippled Quicktime player? In the days where OS X comes with Quick Look, capable of full screen video playback (even over the network), the experience of video on the internet is very poor. I suggest being more clever about viewing video content; let the user detach video content from websites and view it fullscreen. When a website opens a pop-up with just a Quicktime movie in it and the pop-up is about as large as the video, wouldn’t it be much nicer to open up such a light-weight video window instead of a clumsy browser window instance with a crippled player? Together with integration of movie content in the sidebar, such as movies from your contacts (which could tie in to Youtube subscriptions), movie favorites, and your own personal 24/7 channel with suggested videos. This doesn’t even have to be a very accurate service; it’s only to provide the user content at his discretion.
Watching video online might actually become fun again.
The same basic idea goes for photos. Using address book information and .Mac gallery / Flickr services, you can make a stream of images from your contacts. Image favorites deserve their own category, of course, for visual browsing, and again, providing ‘unexpected’ content through a stream like recently uploaded photos to online services allows for true ‘browsing’ of the content.
I’ve heard some critique on this idea. The first and foremost was the prioritizing of the interface on the same level as the internet content. I believe it would be a great idea to have an ‘extended’ mode that essentially minimizes your sidebar and window profile to maximise your viewing size. This could also help your view websites, news, videos and image slideshows.
This ‘viewing’ state of the window is also what I intend to use for my second point of critique, the viewing of history. I haven’t heard any questions in regards to history when I presented my mockup to people, but personally, I think browsing history should be a lot more visual. In the toolbar, you can see a ‘Time Machine’-like button, that allows you to, yes, go back in time and browse your visiting history quickly and visually. Alternatively, you can search through it or bookmark pages directly.
As a last addendum, I always loved the way iTunes handled downloads. I always manage to get my downloads window stuck behind my browser window, forcing me to expose it to the foregrond or digging it up through a menu. With iTunes, or my dream browser, you know where to look.
Lastly, I certainly won’t code this application or pay someone to make it. It served as personal experimentation and I shared it as inspiration after being massively disappointed with the Mac beta version of Firefox 3.0. I hope you enjoyed reading and seeing what I dream to see in a browser one day.