Google IO: HTML5 and Chrome Web Store

The main focus of Google’s first keynote at Google IO was HTML5 and the future of web applications. In recent times, it’s become possible to do more and more things in the browser that we used to have to download dedicated apps for. With new technologies like HTML5, so much more is possible and Google are really pushing it as a major part of computing going forward. It’s a part of their strategy for the desktop with Chrome and Chrome OS, mobile with android and the living room with Google TV. It was always in the background throughout their entire conference with a presence in everything that was being talked out.

The chrome web store is a natural progression of web apps and makes them accessible in a way more akin to traditional applications. You can “install” apps to your new tab page in either chrome browser or chrome OS. Installing is really only installing a high resolution icon which acts as a bookmark to the app itself, although parts of the apps may be installed onto the local drive for offline access, but that’s pure speculation on my part.

I think this is something which really lends itself well to the minimalist, predominantly online nature of chrome OS and I think it’s an important step in allowing the average user to be able to keep tabs on their email, calendar, documents, social networking sites and more, which are all browser based in their primary form. I think it’s important to differentiate real web apps from regular web sites and have a separate place for all your most used tools.

I can’t wait to see what HTML5 will allow us to do in the near future, and the web store rekindles my excitement for chrome OS.


Flock Browser: The Reunion

When Flock first came out there was a big buzz surrounding it and the browser seemed to be hitting at the right time to capitalise on the emergence of social media into the mainstream. I was a big supporter for a long time, even going as far as to try new beta test versions and all kinds of other things.

At the time I used to use it as my main browser. I loved the stylish interface, the great blogging editor, photo upload options, feed reader and more. Those are all great things, and they have a point when they say that the browser business has stagnated for many years without real innovation. The issue is that it’s not necessarily going to help most people by making an incredibly complex, bloated browser with all of these things included. Browsers can move forward technologically in other ways, while still providing a clean interface and fast performance, like Google Chrome does and to a lesser extent, Safari and Firefox. Internet Explorer, well I’m sure they’re innovating, but they’re doing it behind everyone else in a way that only the mainstream will use because they know no better.

After a couple of years of not using the social browser I decided to try it again out of the blue, just to see how they were doing and how the app had progressed in that time. Upon downloading and installing, I quickly went about setting up as many services as possible. I quickly became overwhelmed with the amount of options available and some of the account logins, especially Flickr didn’t seem to work and kept logging me back out, so it did feel a bit buggy and not really polished as you would like.

I think the issue Flock has now is that I think generally speaking, the web is moving forward within the browser window itself. Websites are becoming more and more like the downloaded applications of the past, and that trend is set to continue. Take Google Docs and Google Reader for example. They provide the same tools that we’re used to downloading, and putting them in a browser in a way that feels almost identical. Also take things like Gmail and Facebook chat and sites like Meebo. You can even do voice and video chats on Google and Meebo from within the browser. If you told me that was possible 5 years ago I would have thought it was a joke. If websites are looking and feeling like standalone apps, then why would you need app style integration within the browser itself? It seems over the top and unnecessary to me at this point.

Of course, not every task can be done currently directly in the browser, and sometimes you’re going to want either a separate application entirely, or a way to integrate an online service into an existing app. For example, iPhoto on the Mac integrates seamlessly with Flickr and Facebook for photo sharing. Flock does these things too, but when I tried it recently, it seemed buggy and intrusive to the intended experience, whereas iPhoto doesn’t intrude on your traditional experience of using those sites when you’re actually on the site itself. It merely provides a useful extension of a great service.

What I’m saying really is that while Flock does a lot of cool sounding things, you don’t actually need any of the things it does. For bookmarks I now use Google Bookmark Sync in Chrome as opposed to delicious. For blog posting I use Windows Live Writer on PC, which is a fabulous free tool by Microsoft that I’m using for this post and most of my others. On Mac I use MarsEdit which is also very good but not free. I could go on and list everything Flock does and the methods I use for each of those specific tasks. Whether it be simply going to the website, using an external app’s integration or another method but it’s not really important to the point I’m trying to make.

I’m not trying to bash Flock at all, I just feel that they’re building on a gimmick and layering too much stuff on top of the core browsing experience. Web browsers are evolving slowly, it’s true. But Chrome and Safari, Firefox to a lesser extent in my opinion are where you should be spending your time. I love how Chrome feels to use. It flows so nicely and the new tab page is useful without feeling extravagant like Safari’s does. The bookmark syncing feature was just the icing on the cake for me. It’s a brilliant feature that hopefully is the trend for all browsers moving forward.

Flock is a decent social web browser, but because everything is moving towards the browser anyway, every single browser is basically as social. I guess Flock makes you aware of the social options available, but if you have a well organised bookmarks bar and new tab page, you’ll get the same effect and it won’t overwhelm you with countless options you don’t really need.


Opera for iPhone / iPod Touch Initial Thoughts

After initially being surprised to hear that Apple approved this, I proceeded to download and check this out. First impressions were good. The browser is very fast, it definitely appeared faster than Safari on the first gen iPod Touch that I have. I like the Chrome style new tab page and the selectable and customisable search engines. However there are some big snags I’ve quickly noticed. On youtube and other video sites, you can’t watch videos at all in the app which safari does let you do.

Another downside is that sometimes the touch screen feels too sensitive in this application and sometimes clicks things when you don’t mean to while just browsing around the new tab page for example.

Using the double tap to zoom and panning don’t feel as smooth and well done as in Safari and there is no rubber banding effect when you reach the edge of the page. This isn’t exactly a fault but it makes it feel less like an iPhone app and the feeling of the page just stopping is a strange one to get used to.

Overall, there aren’t a lot of problems with this app. If you want a good, fast browser and want the advantages in speed and some functionality that Opera brings, then it’s a good alternative to Safari.

Normally I would be put off by the lack of a wikipedia search box or a new tab page in safari but I’ve been using it for so long now that I’m used to it and have adapted how I use the browser. Therefore, for me I’m happy to stick with the official browser for the time being.

With that said, I am very excited to see the possible future offerings from Google and Mozilla should they create iPhone versions of Chrome and Firefox.