What Do You Think is the Ultimate Browser Feature?
The web plays such a large role in our modern lives, even for those of us not working in one of the many industries which are based there. Be we users, web workers or both, internet browsers are a major part of how that experience all goes down. For designers and developers, browsers help steer the directions that our industries tend to make strides in.
So when it comes to the numerous inconsistencies and daily browser related battles that we face, we begin to long for some ultimate browsing experience that we have yet to find. That pieced together Frankenstein monster of compatibility and user-focused features that would make the most of everyone’s internet experience across the board. Knowing that these common fantasies find those in the design and development field almost daily, we turned to that reliable Smashing network that is our online friends and followers for help.
We asked if they were to build this proverbial dream browser what would be their ultimate, most innovative and/or anticipated browser features that they would include? The must-haves! Where would they focus their efforts? And below is the result. Their answers explored and dissected for a look at what kind of browser the design and development community would put together.
From the User’s Perspective
Whenever you start looking at building the ultimate browsing experience, you have to consider multiple perspectives. With this breakdown, we have a few different viewpoints that we have divided the responses into. This first section looks at those features that would most impact the users of this wonder browser. The Usability and UX side of the coin.
Naturally, one of the first areas that answers began to focus was on the performance of the browser. When it comes to the end users, bells and whistles are nice so long as they do not interfere with this important area. User’s want performance that doesn’t come with a heavy tax on the system running it.
One popular feature that we see in some of the major browsers that our followers would like across the board is in terms of process handling. This aspect of the browser performance is the root cause of many a user headache indeed. With Firefox’s latest versions, they have joined Chrome, Safari and IE in taking on this challenge efficiently by having each open tab run as a separate process. However, users who are for now stuck with the older versions still face these headaches.
Users want a browser that can juggle whatever processes they throw at it. Without any dropped balls. Photo by Simon Law.
For now if they are running older Firefox and IE browsers, then until the updates and patches they still receive for legacy versions pump this new process handling performance tweak into their frameworks, frustration awaits. In the interest of always moving forwards, it is unlikely those patches will be passed on to legacy browsers, but that does not stop our followers from wishing that they would.
Energy Efficiency: Wishlist
One area which does impact performance and remains something of a wishlist item from the community, is a much more energy effecient browser. Perhaps with the growing number of demands that we continue placing on browsers and their performance, this is a dream that may never fully actualize. With all of the customization options that browsers provide us through add-ons and plugins, having a browser that is light on our battery does not seem to be much of a focus for all users. But mobile is changing that.
As the mobile market grows, so does the demand for a more compact, light-weight browser for those users who wish to surf the web as they have grown accustomed to it on their other devices (such as their PC’s and laptops). So much of the mobile web browsing that takes place these days is handled via apps and not a full browser. And until browser supplies can meet this demand (and others), the energy equation is going to drive them farther from the mobile market.
The answers we were getting also made one thing abundantly clear right off the bat, users want an easy browsing experience. And as we see many plugins and services coming to the aid of users across the web catering to this desire for ease, it seems that this message is being heard on some level. But there are still browser features that could be improved or created to make browsing the web even better.
Being able to sync your browsers across devices (especially to mobile devices) is a feature that many users long to have. Since Firefox 4 two-way syncing of browser settings, passwords and even open tabs from computers to mobile devices has been possible, but others have yet to fully catch up. Chrome lets the user access sync data using a Google account, provided the same browser is used on the mobile device, but this is still somewhat lacking.
Bottom line, there are so many aspects of our online / digital lives that we feel requires more synchronization. Image by Andrew Currie
While some kind of full scale implementation of browser synchronization (even across platforms) may be a little more than a pipe-dream, it seems that the online community would still like more steps in that direction. As close as the developers can carry us to this dream will be fine, as the ground we have already covered is promising and growing more user-friendly with each step. And with Chrome’s widening syncing capabilities of the Omnibox across device platforms, things are looking up more and more.
Better Bookmarking: Wishlist
Bookmarks, tabs, and bookmark tags have made browsing a lot more user-friendly through the years, and that experience seems to continue to evolve. Bookmarklets, jump lists and site pinning are steps in that evolution that have all been well received. But from the responses that we got from our followers, there are some places they would like to see this evolution end up as it continues.
Users would like to see some sort of one button bookmarking with a built-in ratings systems for the sites that they are adding in the future. Allowing for bookmarks to be arranged in order of the ratings we give them without having to rearrange them or organize them into groups. They would also like to see this rating system allow for image captures of the sites, so as we scroll through our bookmarks the images would pop-up for easier recognition. Much like some browsers already do with tabs.
One of the areas where users tend to always be looking for assistance from outside sources, is readability. In fact, there are numerous readability add-ons being used such as Readability or Notforest, which are offered for multiple platforms today. This had some of our followers asking, why not just integrate a native readability function into browsers? Go ahead and cut out the proverbial middle man.
As the add-ons’ functionality and customization options grow, giving the users more and more power to control the visual presentations of any site they visit, the more it seems at home as a native function of any browser that focuses on the user.
One important feature that many users are looking for these days from their browser is connectivity. The web is a social environment, and as such, its inhabitants are extremely social creatures. Users would like to see more catering to this need and their networking built right into their browsers. With the demise of Flock, users who were hoping this sort of social media integration into the browsing experience would become more standard were left thinking perhaps this would not be the case. Especially when new versions from the main vendors had none.
However, now with RockMelt on the landscape, hopes are once more reviving that more social media integration will take root with other vendors. By allowing users’ various social media outlets to be easily accessed, and alerted when new activity in their feeds occurs built right into the browser, a much more complete and connected experience takes shape.
From the Designer’s Perspective
Designer’s look at the web a little bit differently than most. Like developers, our work shapes the way we browse, and so when the designer’s perpsective began taking shape from the responses we received, it was clear that their ultimate browsing experience was built largely on the potential we see from where we are at currently; and our imaginations of what could be. So it was more of wishlist that we gained from this perspective.
One of the areas that was touched on by several of our followers, was the adoption of the SPDY protocol to replace the much slower HTTP. If you are not familiar with Google’s SPeeDY new protocol, that may be because it has not gotten that wide a reach so far, but that is changing. Not sure if it will catch on the way it seems the design community would like (or Google for that matter), but given Mozilla’s recent integration of Google’s SPDY protocol things are looking up. Or should we say, speeding up? No, probably, not. Sorry, ineffective pun attempt.
To get a little more specific into exactly what this protocol is all about, check out this info sheet.
Given that the HTTP protocol has been criticized for its inability to properly handle the complex content that we are creating in an efficient, fast way, many designers have been looking for a better way forward. Since the beginning of 2011, Google has seemingly been leading the way. Designers have seen that this new protocol can process and load more than one resource at a time, unlike HTTP, and they want it.
However, given that this protocol requires more than just browser acceptance, it also requires the server’s that sites are hosted on to be compliant and integrate SPDY as well, look for a slower adoption of this wishlist item than perhaps some of the others. But with Firefox now turning this direction also, folks in the community are hopeful that the domino’s are lining up to fall in SDPY’s favor. If more browsers support the protocol then it is thought more sites and servers will begin falling in suite as well. Opening the doors for a speedier future.
From the Developer’s Perspective
As mentioned, developers also browse the web through a different lens than the average user, and when the answers from the dev side of the community started coming in, it was clear where their sites were set. They all tended to focus on efficient cross-browser development. Which is pretty much where you would expect the largest percentage of answers to fall, as the lack of this is responsible for the largest percentage of headaches that developers face when coding a site.
Can you imagine what a wonderful world it would be if the standards were adopted so much quicker and with less picking and choosing? The developers that we heard from can imagine such a place, and they wish it would get here now! From the current processes in place for new standards to be decided on to the ways that the specific vendors go about ‘choosing’ which ones to integrate, so much needs to be revamped that this item had to be wishlisted.
Excerpt from The Web Standards Project Mission Statement:
Though leading browser makers have been involved in the creation of web standards since W3C was formed, for many years compliance was observed in the breach. By releasing browsers that failed to uniformly support standards, manufacturers needlessly fragmented the Web, injuring designers, developers, users, and businesses alike.
Perhaps we will get there one day, but for now, the day of complete cross-browser standards compliance and integration is something of a distant dream.
Until this magic day arrives and we no longer have to perform the achingly repetitive and frustrating cross-browser checks on our websites, users would like the ability to run this check via their single browser of choice. So they are looking to the creators to work on developing this sort of option as a native function of the browser itself.
Firefox has attempted to provide such a feature with the IE-Tab. Developing it further to support different browser families and at least cover the past three versions of IE is a capability many would appreciate. So this is perhaps not that far from being seen in variations from multiple vendors as is often the case with these new developments.
Since it burst onto the scene, HTML5 has been converting developers and designers over to its simple and concise framework, but that has not sped up the integration and adoption like many would have hoped. In fact, many are resistant to the push to use this new standard as using HTML5 may still cause problems in certain browsers. To check how your site or app works in a browser or which extension might be missing, apply The HTML5 Test and check your browser score.
Editing and Debugging
The Firefox add-on Firebug includes a powerful coding, debugging and monitoring feature readily at your fingertips while browsing. Decent cross-browser DOM inspection tools as well as script debugging with easy CSS editing capabilities are greatly missed in many browsers. While others have some level of these capabilities, Firebug has already set the bar so high that, according to our replies, many are longing for comparable functionality where sadly it is lacking.
Not only do they want all browsers to offer developers real-time editing possibilities as well as quick statistical analysis tools, but they want them to be offered natively. Having that functionality right out of the box for a browser may be something that most would have wishlisted, but given where we are already at with regards to this (look at Chrome for example), it may not be that much of a stretch. But then again, maybe we’re just dreamers.
Ultimate Dream Features
Speaking of dreamers, we come to their section of the post. Here we have a shortlist of features that we couldn’t ignore. Features that many of our followers believed were long overdue.
Built-In Browser Sound Controls
Take over those controls. Image by Alex McCabe
With so many online apps and sites that unexpectedly take over your devices sound functions, to the aggravation of many a user, there are lots of people that we heard from who would like this addressed. With some sort of built-in browser sound controls, users could prevent these oft surprising system hijackings from ever taking place again. Or at least, that seems to be the instigation behind this dreamer’s addition to our list.
Another area that our followers felt had been lacking, is a native FTP program along the lines of FireFTP across the vast spectrum of browsers. Several of our users singled out Chrome specifically here as it ranks so high in other areas with regards to both developers and users, but this one desired element has left something of a gaping void in many’s eyes that vendors should all seek to correct.
Native Multiple-Language IDEs
With more and more users actively looking to further design and develop from right there in their browsers versus separate applications, having native IDEs built into every browser would be a total dream come true. Integrated Development Environments (also known as Integrated Design Environments, Integrated Debugging Environments or even Interactive Development Environments) as built-in browser functions would effectively take designers and developers one step closer to a state of nirvana.
Effectively turning our browsers into one of our most powerful tools defining our trades. Though they tend to come with a steep learning curve, once we were passed that, we would have a streamlined workflow that put nearly all of the necessary development features in one place. Now as mentioned in the header, for this to work, they could not be dedicated to a single programming language as some IDEs are. With the prevalence of multiple-language IDEs available today, perhaps this dream could be reached one day soon.
Built-in Browser Based Text Editor
Though IDEs tend to come with a source code editor, there are still users who have called for a built-in text editor to come standard in their browsers. This would come in handy for a number of users, not just those necessarily in the design and development community. Once again, this is a matter of improved workflow, wherein users get more out of their browser and are having to switch back and forth between programs less while working on a project. Therefore, this small addition to all browsers would still be a dream come true.
Having extra backups in place to safeguard against any sort of information loss is always dreamed of by users. And while the process handling has improved on newer browsers, there is still an issue with any tab instability that can cause us to lose whatever information we are typing into any areas of that crashing tab. This is part of the frustration that helps to fuel calls for browsers to have an auto-save function that will protect whatever information we are entering from being lost. Whatever the cause. Even a power disruption would not cause total loss of our data, as long as the browser was watching our backs and automatically saving our entries every so often.
The final dream feature mentioned by our followers has to do with the lack of macro support across the browser board. Wishing to significantly improve workflow, productivity and reduce frustration, users are calling for more native macro functioning to automate those more repetitive tasks we ask of our browsers daily. iMacros for Firefox is a great example of what they are looking for. However, they would like to see more vendors climbing on board, and this functionality going native.
A Mention of Mobile Microbrowsers
We thought it wouldn’t be right to leave the post without a quick mention of mobile browsers as we had a couple of mentions of those. The largest crux with current mobile browsing technology is undoubtedly its platform dependency. Something our followers would certainly like to see change. The Mobile Market Overview shows that mobile versions of today’s top market share web browsers are tied to specific brands or models.
Internet Explorer Mobile is constrained to the Windows 7 operating system, Firefox for mobile has only been released for Nokia Maemo and Android, Safari is exclusive to Mac mobile products, and so on. Not only do users want that to change, but they would also like better performance from the mobile browsers virtually all around. A factsheet featuring the prevalent browsers yields some interesting insights. Only two major mobile browsers currently pass the Acid3-Performance-Test , whereas the rather fameless surf engines Iris and Skyfire score 100/100.
We know that with the levels of customization offered via plugins and add-ons, browsers can reach so many of these heights already. However, the with the vendors working them into the initial browser, hopes are that these often costly (with regards to system resources and more) features would find more light-weight integrations. Not to mention the amount of time and searching it could potentially save in the end.
As always we appreciate all of the wonderful responses that we received from our friends and followers, which provided the insights for putting this post together. And while we were not able to shine a light on all of the answers we got in, we are now turning the post over to you. Leave us a comment and let us know what you think of the must-have features mentioned, or what features you would include in your browser.
By Stephan Poppe:
Stephan has been part of the Smashing Team for some time now. Every once in a while he takes his time to put a useful piece together himself. He loves digging into the newest developments around the web and hopes you enjoy his discoveries.