Tabs and Apps – Web Apps Evolved
Here’s something you already know: The web as we know it today, is not how it was originally designed to be. The web was invented as a network of inter-connected articles. This is what HTTP, and HTML were meant to do. This is also what the browser was meant to do. The browser is a tool that allows us to browse through this huge catalog of articles, navigating from one article to another. Today however, the web has evolved into a fully-fledged development platform (perhaps the most popular development platform on earth). Sites like Gmail, Facebook, YouTube, and Dropbox are not “web sites” - They are web applications. Of course, everybody already knows that, right? So my question is why do we keep using these apps like web sites? In particular – why are we still using “the browser” in order to organize them?
Here is a common sight that probably everyone can relate to:
What’s wrong here? All the tabs left to the Google tab, are not pages that I’m browsing through, and therefore should not be in my browser. These are apps that just happens to be of the web kind, and just because of that they are sentenced to life in a browser tab. Think about the apps that you like to always keep opened, like Gmail to see when you get a new email and respond immediately, or GrooveShark to listen to music, or Twitter to see when you have new tweets in the feeds. These are apps, not pages, and therefore doesn’t belong in a browser tab.
Having all these apps in the browser tabs bar - This is bad user experience. I want apps to have their own context so I can use them more fluently, and the browser to be free of those apps so I can really use it to browse the web.
But we already have an infrastructure to organize running apps – The taskbar. While the browser is not an ideal place to organize running apps, the taskbar is naturally designed for this.
I would really love to see my web apps freed from the browser and live by themselves, on the taskbar.
Unfortunately, today’s reality is far from that… Remember that screenshot I showed you before? with all the apps opened in chrome? I dropped something from that screenshot. Here is how it really looks like:
See that tiny miserable taskbar over there? Let me help you:
It is the truth - Today’s OSs are just big machines used to open browsers, and from then on everything happens in the browser. This really sucks from a User Experience perspective! It just doesn’t make sense that the OS provides us this great application management infrastructure (multi tasking in the OS is great), but we don’t really use it. Instead, we use it to open another kind of applications management infrastructure, a far inferior one, and use that other one for everything.
Recent developments in the Browsers \ OS arena demonstrates the maturity of this idea:
- Chrome apps are really as close as it gets to what I’m talking about. They just lack the website integration and compatibility that I need.
- Chrome OS is an entire Operating system built around this story. It hasn’t integrated web apps with the OS, it is just an OS that is built from web apps.
- Windows 8 apps are a great way to solve the usability challenge – you can use Windows 8 apps for all your favorite apps or services and the browser for the rest.
- Internet Explorer 9 introduced Pinned Websites, and notification badges for web pages which in my opinion was a great move, but I can’t find it in latest versions anymore… Who knows.
If I’ll have to describe the solution I’m imagining it would be something like this:
- From your browser, you can always pin sites to the task bar.
- Pinning a site indicates that it’s in fact an app and not a web site.
- This app is basically a browser showing only that app.
- When in this app mode, the browser will not show any toolbars, address bar, or navigation controls. Most importantly – No tabs in an app!
- Preferably the browser will pre-download the app’s resources locally.
- The host allows app like feature such as notifications.
- All links that are external to the app will open the default browser in another window. Although it’s run by the browser, you shouldn’t use it to browse.
If I had something like this, I would have been really happy. I could:
- See all the open apps at a glance.
- Switch easily between opened apps (Suddenly Alt+Tab is useful!)
- Quickly launch apps that I use frequently.
- Multitask with apps more intuitively.
- See notifications for apps that I care about.
- I have an authentic browser application that is now clean and simple. With it I surf the web and browse web sites without the mental burden of dozens of apps in tabs.
- And best of all – I have one taskbar for all my apps.