HolidayBuyer's Guide

How will Google Chrome change the user experience on the Web?

With Google Chrome, the Web application era is getting real. Gianluca Brugnoli, Principal Design Analyst in frog design's Milan studio, outlines some possible models and consequences Chrome might have for the field of user experience.

By Gianluca Brugnoli, Principal Design Analyst in frog design 's Milan studio

Google Chrome was born explicitly as a platform for Web applications. From the first bits I saw I can say that Google's new creation delivers most of the promises and brings new interesting innovations in the user experience realm. Competitors will find them hard to ignore, especially when you look at the tab concept improvements. For a good review of these points, you can refer to this post on Ars Technica.

Many hailed Google's move as a revolutionary step. And indeed, with Google Chrome, the Web application era is getting real. Let's look beyond the technology and outline some possible models and consequences Chrome might have for the field of user experience:

Firefox's concept, where the Web browser remains the key tool and the main interface for using a Web application, is a service that is completely online. In this case, the user experience is chiefly based on typical Web technologies, that is, the magic triad XHTML, CSS, and Javascript. Standard Web browsing is blended in with Web application interaction. The user jumps between tabs within the same context and tool.

An alternative model seeks to overcome the Web browser, hiding it for the user, like Mozilla Prism, or at least trying to replace it with a different client and dedicated interfaces. This is the model you can see in action with Adobe Air or Microsoft WPF, and also with Apple's iTunes. In this case, the user experience is based on a mix of locally installed software components and user interfaces, online contents and services. With this model you get the best performances and a more consistent user experience while the Web remains in the background as a distribution channel for data exchange. Any device and system has its own client, designed and created ad hoc. Nevertheless, as you can see with iTunes, the user sometimes is locked into a "walled garden."

The pure online Web application model based on Chrome, with few local components installed on your hardware, is certainly the most promising one: truly open, flexible, and easy to upgrade. But for now, Chrome is still a Web browser, and its dependency from the Web browser's user experience could be a soft spot, or at least a strong constraint for the Web application's evolution.

Talking about the Chrome "revolution," many commentators are using the metaphor of the operating system. The browser plays the part of the platform, and the Web application is the software. But a real operating system is not only a software platform; it also provides a framework for user interaction, a consistent UI layer, as well as components that the software designer and developers usually have to follow. It puts together many small tools and modules, unifies the user experience, and brings into play every software application built on it.

I think that this is the next big challenge. Will Google be able to change the rules of the Web user experience? With Chrome and Android, Google is getting into the big game: building a consistent and unique experience for end users as well as application designers and developers. Google is an acclaimed leader in Web technologies innovation, but from the end user point of view many Web applications are still nothing more than a toy for geeks. Now they have the opportunity to get their beautiful tech jewels out of the eternal beta phase, into true commercial products focused on the end user.