Take everything you know about mobile browsers today and throw it out the window - that's the premise of Opera's new 'Ice' browser, set to debut publicly at MWC next month. Before I even get into what it is that makes Ice so cool, watch this video of the brief demo at Opera HQ:

The premise of Ice is simplicity. No unneeded menus, no unneeded buttons, and no wasted space. I honestly think this is cool enough to be a game-changing product in the mobile browser space (assuming the execution is as smooth as we're seeing here). It's being developed for both iOS and Android.

Ice navigates primarily through gestures, as opposed to buttons. On a tablet, especially, this makes a lot of sense to me. One part of Microsoft's Surface RT that I like is the focus on gesture-based navigation (one of WebOS's few redeeming features on the Touchpad, I've often heard).

When you're actually browsing, Ice has no visual distractions aside from a central "home" button at the bottom of the UI. It looks really nice, really clean, and really space-efficient. The latter of which is extremely important when you're on something with a display smaller than 10 inches. Navigation tasks are accomplished through gestures that provide visual cues, and searches and URL entry are done from a central landing page.

The landing page itself is pretty simple: a 3x3 grid of icons, each associated with a particular site. You can have multiple grids, which are swiped through like pages on a home screen. In fact, it's pretty obvious that's the inspiration here: a smartphone home screen.

Tab management (one of my least favorite parts of any mobile browser) is accomplished rather interestingly, as well. If the tab you have open isn't part of one of your marked 'favorites,' hitting the central button and returning to the splash screen will leave it along the bottom of the UI as a separate icon. That icon can then be dragged to one of the grids and saved, or presumably it can just live there with other tabs you have open.

The search bar functions interestingly, as well - it looks as though you'll have configurable search engines which can all conduct the same query at once. In the video, Opera CEO Lars Boilesen demonstrates this functionality by searching for 'iPad.' Instead of a single page, you get a series of panes that you can swipe through as you type, each one searching for the term in its respective engine - whether it be Google, Wikipedia, Amazon, or Bing - and then pick the one that's most relevant. On a desktop browser, the use case seems a little more limited to me. On mobile? That would honestly make me less averse to doing web searches from my phone or tablet.

But maybe I'm going crazy - is everyone happy with the state of affairs or mobile browsing on Android? Or does Ice get you a little excited, too?


David Ruddock
David's phone is whatever is currently sitting on his desk. He is an avid writer, and enjoys playing devil's advocate in editorials, and reviewing the latest phones and gadgets. He also doesn't usually write such boring sentences.

  • http://twitter.com/PwN0GrPhy Martin

    I want to see this on my Android Phone

    • Sven Enterlein

      Yeah, I'm not too hopeful it will perform the same way :(

      • http://www.androidpolice.com/ David Ruddock

        That is definitely my concern too. We'll see at MWC.

        • David Hart

          That, and the Opera guys have always been keen on giving low end devices another option. Is there any chance that an Armv6 device could handle such a rich browser?

  • spunker88

    Interesting to see them switching to webkit. I wonder if their Presto web engine is on its way out eventually. Been a long time user of Opera on Windows Mobile and Opera Mini (when I'm on slow 3G) on Android.

  • http://twitter.com/LucasNJohnson Lucas Johnson

    I love chrome's UI but i HATE the lag and stuttering. the note II is one of the most powerful devices on the market, chrome should not be stuttering on text-heavy web pages. I would really like to stay with chrome as i like the interface better than the stock browser (except for lack of quick controls), but i would also love to have something smooth and bug free with a no-frills interface.

    • http://www.androidpolice.com/ David Ruddock

      Chrome for Android makes me a sad panda. The tab management is bad. The speed is hugely inconsistent. The gestures only work half the time. Real estate management on a phone UI isn't great.

      • JonJJon

        Out of interest what do you think is the best implementation of tab management so far? Genuine question as I agree Chrome could use some work

        • http://www.androidpolice.com/ David Ruddock

          I like what they've got going on here. It's out of the way, and it's not even really tabs.

          I don't think having highly visible tab management on a mobile browser is as important as most people seem to think it is - I think people just feel 'naked' without their beloved tabs because they've become such a huge part of desktop browsing. But mobile browsing isn't like desktop browsing, so it doesn't make sense to fashion mobile/touch multi-tasking paradigms in the browser after the desktop.

          I'd be happier with Chrome's tab management if it weren't such a clusterfuck visually and functionally, more than anything. It's just not nice to use.

          • Simon Belmont

            I tend to agree with you, in part, with regards to visible tabs. I think on a smaller screened device, like a phone, hiding the tabs away is a better idea. They don't need to be constantly visible. It just takes up too much precious screen real estate.

            However, on larger screened devices, like tablets, I like having my tabs at the ready. That involves being more like a desktop browser. I like how the stock Android browser does it, how Chrome does it, and how Dolphin does it.....for tablets. I do admit this new Opera browser looks interesting though.

          • http://bitshift.tumblr.com/ esjay

            I don't see any of the tab problems in Chrome that you are describing. They function as well as I can imagine and I think the two primary gestures for tabs is about as far as average users would go.

          • 8Charlie

            You could use the same gestures to switch to a tab? And you want prettier tabs. Ok, sure. But being able to view a preview of a tab still seems like a better idea than a lil icon. If I had two Facebook profiles open, how would I find the right tab? In that aspect already Chrome's handling of tabs seems much smarter. You could always just swipe till you find it yes, which you could do on Chrome also.

            If you were two.save two different Facebook profiles as a bookmark, you would never be able to guess which is which. Or maybe two articles from Android Police? You'd have loads of identical icons.

            This is prettier sure, but how is it that much better?

        • http://www.androidpolice.com/ Artem Russakovskii

          For my own browsing, I found that Dolphin offers a vastly superior (again, for me personally) tab management, when it comes to several tabs. Most of the time all I need is one click.

          And my bookmarks are automatically present on every new tab I open. That makes me quite happy - almost everything I do in Dolphin is 1 click away.

          Chrome, Firefox, and other browsers try too hard to collapse or remove the tab management from view that they make the user (that's me) too inundated with it. Add lack of extensions, and Dolphin is still the winner in my book.

          I suspect it will change in the next year or two, and this new Opera certainly looks interesting. Opera, however, has never been able to penetrate the market in any kind of meaningful way, and I don't expect them to suddenly do it with this browser.

          • jayjam

            Never able to penetrate the market? It has 300 million active users, and is the biggest mobile browser worldwide.

          • http://www.androidpolice.com/ Artem Russakovskii

            I mean Android. And desktop.

            The majority of the users are on feature phones.

          • jayjam

            I'm pretty sure Opera is one of the most popular Android browsers.

          • spunkysam

            I prefer dolphin but have to use chrome because it is the only browser that will open your playstore links in the actual playstore app. Every other browser opens your links as a web page :(

          • Freak4Dell

            I think what would make Dolphin better would be if they moved tab
            management to that bar that can be pulled in with a swipe from the side.
            Sort of like how Metro does the multitasking in Windows 8, or like how
            the stock browser lays out multiple tabs, but to the side instead of
            overlaying the screen. I guess maybe they'd have nowhere to put the
            bookmarks if they put tab management there, but I personally wouldn't
            care (I don't use bookmarks that often).

            I like the way Chrome
            does navigation between tabs, but the gestures only work a part of the
            time, instead of every time like in Dolphin. The bad thing about Chrome
            is that it requires a button click to see the tabs if you don't want to
            scroll through each one. A side swipe gesture to open a tab pane would
            be a real nice way to solve this, I think, although that would then get
            in the way of scrolling through tabs.

          • JonJJon

            I agree I like the dolphin approach and I also agree Opera is unlikely to suddenly get a massive user base from this release. Perhaps Chrome by Dolphin? ;-P

      • ssj4Gogeta

        I quite like tab management on Chrome. I think there's a threshold on the speed at which you swipe for the tab-switching gesture. If you swipe fast enough from the edge, it always works, otherwise it just scrolls the page.

    • Jay T

      I find that Firefox for android has gotten pretty good. It is fast on every phone/tab I've used it on, and has none of the sudden stuttering of Chrome.

    • yahyoh

      try chrome beta it's freaking fast and way smooother than the stable build :)

  • IncCo

    looks cool.. would probably give it a shot

  • denbo68

    Look forward to trying it out but I am not holding my breath that it will perform all that well on Android. Sorry to say that the browsing experience (Dolphin, Chrome, etc...) is not so good.

  • http://twitter.com/misterE33 Mr E

    Yo, VIP, let's kick it!

    Looks interesting. I like the bookmark management, and the search was kind of neat. However, when I search, I usually know specifically where I want to search. The gesture controls are neat as well, but I'm concerned how well they'll work on sites that already have click-and-hold and dragging controls.

    Stop. Collaborate and listen

  • firethorn

    That "close tab" animation. Oh god, why?

    • http://www.androidpolice.com/ David Ruddock

      Because it's not closing - it's letting you visually know the tab is being kept open for later use. Not everything is about raw speed, people who aren't techy need these visual cues to understand what's actually happening in the browser.

      • firethorn

        That's fine. I meant that pointless "let's flip it around while it flies into the background". I have always liked Opera but why do they do this? *cringes*

        • jayjam

          Because it gives a visual clue as to what is going on?

          • firethorn

            The content pane flipping around gives you a useful visual clue in any way? Hang on, I need to take notes for my next UX meeting.

          • jayjam

            Content pane flipping around? What are you talking about?

          • firethorn

            I'm talking about the content window of the current tab not merely zooming out and away to settle in the multi-tab view (which would be absolutely fine because it's a useful interaction cue) but actually performing this useless and tacky somersault when going to the background (and also when coming to the front, argh).

            My usability reflexes go crazy whenever I see that one. But okay, I take it other people are fine with that kind of visual embroidery. It's not for me though.

          • jayjam

            That animation actually makes perfect sense because it's the transition between the icon and the page. Since the icons are not thumbnails but rather icons, there needs to be some transition between them. So the animations shows it flipping from the icon on one side to the page on the other side of an imagined piece of paper.

  • nsnsmj

    This looks really, really good. For now though, I'm perfectly happy with the stock browser and quick controls.

  • heat361

    Ooh this is nice!!This is what Google chrome should become :)

  • Alvin Brinson

    I guess I'm an old stick in the mud, not liking fully gesture based UI in the least. This browser doesn't impress me, but that as I said, is because I don't like the UI paradigm. A few gestures such as swiping left and right are self revealing and useful. But when you build an entire app around "hiding everything" and depend on the user to memorize a bunch of "tricks" to get what they want, then it becomes a pain to use, and the learning curve is very high.

    • jayjam

      You don't really have to memorize anything if the swiping gestures are intuitive.

      Remember when Apple introduced the iPhone? It had several new "paradigms" when it came to navigating stuff on the phone. Didn't seem to be a problem to people.

      I mean, swiping right to go back in history is almost exactly how other touch applications work. As an example.

      • 8Charlie

        Wasn't it swiping right to go to another tab? I actually think swiping to go back in history doesn't make too much sense. And you make a great point. But I still have to agree with Alvin. Because it simply ISN'T intuitive. If I always swiped to go to the next picture, I don't relate swiping to history but to tabs. But maybe still to history, because I swipe to go to the previous picture. And that's when it gets tricky.

        Just think if all the gestures and shortcuts on the PC that people don't use. Most people don't know that pressing backscape is the same as the back button, or Windows+ key, even CTRL+ C/X/V.

        And often times what seems intuitive for developers, is not intuitive for users. I personally hate apps that rely a lot on gestures. It's just more things to have to remember.

  • TynanDeRosa

    That youtube preview image makes it look like you could put on there. EXPOSED! and some sort of horrible thing, like a human trafficing.

  • http://www.facebook.com/dohuy710 Do Huy

    tôi yêu Opera

  • 8Charlie

    How is this any better than Chrome? I really don't understand the writer's excitement. Chrome has a bar on top with an adress field and tabs and options. This has a bar on the bottom with one button. They both have one bar? Chrome uses that one bar for going to a webpage, search queries, gabs and settings. This would use one bar for one button and force me to use extra clicks to open up a webpage? What if I want to copy a URL?

    Chrome already has gestured for switching tabs. Going directly to the Apple page if you type in iPad. Google already offers this. The writer acts as if this is the best thing since sliced bread. I like the speed dial, which chrome should copy instead of using it's own weird system. And this is prettier, yes. But other than that, how is this really any better?

    • jayjam

      What seems different about this browser is that it hides most of the techy stuff so you can just focus on viewing the sites you want to view. Chrome still has loads of browser chrome. This new browser is almost exclusively gesture-based.

      • 8Charlie

        All I see in my Chrome browser is one bar. One bar with an address bar, the tabs and more. If you were to (want) to browse like this Opera Ice browser, what techy things are you coming across?

        This insinuates that people want gestures, people want an intuitive way to go back and no hassle with buttons.

        Chrome: gestures for switching tabs. Going back, back button. No other buttons.

        Opera Ice: gestures for going back. Changing tabs, button. No other buttons.

  • http://www.facebook.com/larsgbnielsen Lars Gyrup Brink Nielsen

    A lot of good ideas went into this browser :-)

  • http://codytoombs.wordpress.com/ Cody Toombs

    Am I the only person who thinks this is a point for point replica of iOS?

    Central Home Button...check
    Icons that stack on multiple pages that you swipe through...check
    "Applications" open back up as if they were never closed...check
    Swiping rotates through "applications"...check (ipad-only with slightly different gesture)

    The only thing that's significantly different is the multi-search, which isn't really new or original, even among mobile browsers. It is done better here than I've seen anywhere before.

    Other issues aside (I don't care to get into debates about gesture navigation in browsers), the interface is just a just-different-enough-to-avoid-lawsuit version of the iPad. If the browser comes out just like this, I'd put 10-to-1 odds that a significant number of iPad users will accidentally hit the hardware home button repeatedly when they mean to hit that software button conveniently located only 1/3 of an inch away.