Opera Coasts into iPad browser market

Designed from scratch for the iPad and touch, free Coast browser eliminates 'chrome' distractions to focus on the page content

Opera Software yesterday launched a new browser, dubbed Coast, for the iPad, touting it as a radical departure from run-of-the-mill mobile Web browsers.

"Browsers on tablets were just blown-up mobile browsers, they didn't feel right and not as they should be on the iPad," said Huib Kleinhout, the head of Opera's Coast project.

Coast browser on Computerworld
The ultra-minimalist design of Coast eliminates virtually all of the "chrome" -- UI elements like menus and an address bar -- normally seen in a browser to focus on touch control and the online content. The grid icon at the bottom center, for instance, takes users to their home page for entering URLs or selecting bookmarked websites.

On Monday, Opera released Coast as a free download on Apple's U.S. App Store, and said the browser would quickly launch in other markets.

Coast strips out virtually all the "chrome" normally seen in a browser -- the elements surrounding the page display, like an address bar, back and forward buttons and menus -- and relies exclusively on gestures, primarily swipes, to navigate forward and backward. Pages are represented by small square tiles and sites can be bookmarked by dragging and dropping those tiles.

"Mobile browsers involve too many steps," contended Kleinhout. "Coast is much more optimized for tablets. It's everything you expect from touch."

Unlike Opera's flagship desktop browser, which is in the process of switching to Google's Blink rendering engine -- a Google-specific variant of the open-source WebKit -- Coast is powered by the default iOS Safari rendering and JavaScript engines, a requirement Apple's placed on third-party browser apps for the iPad and iPhone. WebKit also serves as the foundation of Safari on iOS and OS X.

In February, Opera announced it would discard decades of work by ditching its own desktop browser and JavaScript engines in favor of the open-source WebKit rendering engine and Google's V8 JavaScript engines, a move that analysts said was a step toward competing in the lucrative iOS market.

But Kleinhout repeatedly steered the conversation away from the under-the-hood technology used by Coast, saying that what powered the browser was unimportant. "Opera and Coast are still closely related, so [the different engines] are not a problem," he argued. "They're just different implementations of Web standards. Coast is not about the technology but about the user experience."

Kleinhout, who has a background in both engineering and user experience (UX) design, started working on Coast over a year-and-a-half ago as a personal project. Eventually, Coast morphed into an Opera-backed skunkworks initiative that involved a team of about 15 developers.

Coast is for the iPad and iPad Mini only, although Kleinhout said that it could "potentially" be offered at a later date for the smaller-screen iPhone. He declined to discuss future plans for the browser, including whether Opera would craft a version for Microsoft's touch-based Windows 8.

"We're always looking for new products," Kleinhout said.

Coast can be downloaded from the App Store.

Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at @gkeizer, or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed . His email address is gkeizer@ix.netcom.com.

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