Designing a Browser that isn’t a Browser

The web is central to our lives — we probably spend more time in our browsers than in our beds. It has changed the way we do so many things — how we communicate, plan, shop, learn, work, and watch movies. At first, browsing, surfing, or going online was a particular activity; now, the web has melted into everyday life. It has evolved, and the web is now simply part of how we live.

Our behaviours have changed as well. We have moved significant portions of our lives into the cloud, mobile phones have become our most important touch point with technology, and social media and messaging apps have risen to ubiquity.

On desktop computers and laptops, browsers have changed their role from being one application among many to acting as a meta operating system (and in some cases, as the actual operating system). For many users, it is the only app they are ever starting on their computers, where it will then keep running for days or even weeks. They are home to everything from quick ephemeral interactions, all the way to long running full-blown applications.

Meanwhile, the fundamental interaction principles of web browsers haven’t changed in the past 20 years. On the one hand, this is remarkable proof of the quality of those UI concepts and the power of incremental improvement. But there is every reason to believe that a tool originally shaped for reading documents isn’t where you would want to start to support today’s workflows and enable new kinds of interactions with the web.

When you think of a browser today, you’re probably thinking of tabs, a location bar and perhaps a bookmarking system. But are those still the best tools for the jobs we are aiming to accomplish on the web? Maybe they are. Maybe they are not. We want to find out.

Some of the earliest sketches for Project Tofino

That’s why we are starting Project Tofino. It is our name for a series of experiments and explorations on what a browser could look like when its fundamental paradigms are invented in 2016 instead of 1996. It is about taking a fresh look at where people struggle on the web, but not being bound to 20 years of legacy when we look for solutions.

What is it going to look like? We don’t know yet! That’s why we see Project Tofino not as a single product, but rather as a series of experiments. We will use it as a platform to explore radical new ideas that go beyond any existing browser.

You can follow along on Medium, Slack (get access here) and Twitter.