Chrome: The Browser that Isn't

 

Earlier this week, Google entered the browser market with its shiny new offering called Chrome.  I don't know the derivation of the name but in design and engineering circles the non-content part of the browser is usually called the chrome.  If that is the derivation then they should have called it mini-Chrome because the design objective appears to have been to show as little chrome as possible.  I fully agree with this design objective and think that Google has accomplished it.

Interestingly, Google has also tried hard to make this browser a non-browser and it has met that objective too.  In application mode (which you get into by clicking on the page icon to the right of the address bar and selecting "Create Application Shortcuts") the browser really shines.  It has none of the browser elements (navigation buttons, address bar, etc.) but simply has a very small border around the web application display.  This makes web apps appear and behave like desktop apps.  That mode also creates a shortcut on the Windows desktop making the launch of any web apps the same as desktop apps.  Add to that the Google Gears replicating local data with the data in the cloud and you have desktop and web user experience parity along with all the advantages of having web apps with data available in the cloud.  Pretty cool.

Google has done some other cool enhancements to the user experience design.  Other browsers have a Google search bar (or two) together with the address bar.  Well, Google has combined these into a single entry field that acts like an address bar if a url is keyed in but acts as a Google search bar if non-urls are keyed in. Key in whatever you like and Google will deliver it to you. Pretty cool too.

In addition to these user experience enhancements, Chrome also delivers a number of additions under the covers including the isolation of web instances (tabs) so that when one site or app dies, it doesn't take down the entire set of browser instances.  There are also enhancements to the ways Rich Internet Applications (RIA) are handled optimizing their performance.

Google Chrome advances the state-of-the-art in user experience design.

 

The 8 Billion Dollar Design Challenge

It has been estimated that advertisers will spend $8 billion this year on search engines. The companies on which this money will be spent are attempting to enhance their designs in order to compete in this market while at the same time having to balance the interests of users completing the search and advertisers wanting them to consider their products. Add to this, the rather dramatic changes in the content mix on the web with a greater volume of video and image material.

Google entered the market in 1998 and succeeded due to 1) superior search accuracy, 2) simplicity of its user interface, and 3) its ability to make advertising relevant to the search and insert it non-obtrusively in the search results. This is really a Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) success story. Providing users what they want in a way that they want and incorporating the business model for Google seamlessly into the user experience by making it relevant and minimalist. It is truly HCI brilliance!

However, the vastly increased importance of the online platform for advertising (as witnessed by the recent takeover bids of search companies) and the new media formats on the web have created a design challenge for companies in the search engine business. In a recent article entitled Gunning for Google, author Matt Vella summarizes the key design challenges and what the major companies are doing to address them.