Making the Internet more casual: Designer Huib Kleinhout on Opera's iPad-only Coast browser

“Not for geeks, but for new age users,” is how Opera’s Designer Huib Kleinhout describes the iPad-only app Coast. The good-looking browser is currently serving a niche audience of iPad users worldwide, trying to make surfing websites a clutter free yet aesthetically pleasing experience. We caught up with the Dutch designer who works with Opera on his trip to India for a tête-à-tête.

 

Coast burst on to the scene last year as an Opera product and stripped down all the functionality of a browser to bare minimum features. The target audience is everyone from kids to casual users who use their iPads to browse and not for heavy work, says Kleinhout.

 

The browser takes plenty cues from the way the iPad is built and relies on swiping gestures more than taps on tiny icons to help you surf the web. The only two buttons on Coast bring up the speed dial and tabs. The most interesting bit of the browser is that ends up “appifying” websites, instead of treating them as pages. For example, a website like Facebook you’ve just browsed, becomes an app-like icon on your browser that can be brought up with one touch. Same is the case with any other website you run through. You can also add your frequent pages to a pouch on the browser for quick access.

 

“We started from scratch,” explain Kleinhout about how Coast came into being “We thought about how a browser would look like in 2012 [the year Coast’s designing began],” and that’s how the team hit on the idea of 'appification' of pages, helping a casual surfer do so with ease. Kleinhout also believes that a casual browsing experience could also make its way to smartphones where gesture based surfing could replace the slightly uncomfortable browsers available today.

 

“The reason why people like the app experience is because it's a much more fluent concept,” he says. "With apps things happen instantly," Kleinhout adds while explaining that the concept of websites is more associated with jumping between multiple pages and with loading.

Making the Internet more casual: Designer Huib Kleinhout on Operas iPad-only Coast browser

Not coming to Android any time soon

 

The experience seems like an interesting one and with a four-star rating on the App Store along with multiple good reviews, Opera’s coast experiment seems to be doing well. However, the company seems to be holding out a wee too long to bring a gesture based browser to other platforms like Android. Kleinhout says that there are no announcements with regards to Android to be made currently but Opera is “open to new platforms”.

 

iPads, says Kleinhout, have been iconic when it comes to bringing the tablet experience to the general public, and that’s the place Opera wanted to start off with as far as Coast was concerned.

 

Does Kleinhout see something like Coast coming to hybrids with Windows in the future? Not really, he says. "Personally, I believe hybrids are such a compromise... It's extremely hard to get it right" While Microsoft is doing a good job to get hybrids into the mainstream, it's still not enough, the designer says, and currently only constitutes a fraction of a time spent by a person on the device.

 

For a casual browser, Coast takes its security very seriously. If you try to visit sites the browser believes could harm your device, it will show up an animated “X” mark onto the screen, a little dramatically, and ask you to reconsider visiting the website. Instead of asking users and expecting them to come armed with knowledge about safety on the web, Coast believes in warning the user, says Kleinhout, sparing users the technical jargon.

 

Kleinhout says that Opera is actively working on improving the Coast experience and releasing timely updates besides exploring more niche ideas. He emphasised on the need of having products start small and go through an experimental stage for it to succeed.

 

While it should be interesting to see if Opera has any more plans to revolutionise browsing on the iPad, we are more interested to see if the minimal browser can grow from its small size now and make its way to Android tablets and smartphones.

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