Imagining the future of New Tab for Firefox Android.
View full presentation: Updated New Tab Controls on Firefox for Android (PDF – 15.3 MB)
For over a year, the Content Services team has been busy evolving New Tab beyond a simple directory of recent, frequently visited sites. Once Firefox 39 lands on desktops later this summer, New Tab will include an updated interface, better page controls, and suggested content from our partners. With any luck, these and future products releases for the desktop browser will facilitate more direct, deeper relationships between brands and users. Most importantly (to me, anyway), richer controls on New Tab will also offer users more customization and better utility.
While this ongoing project work has certainly kept me busy, I can’t help but think about “the next big thing” whenever I have the chance. Lately, my mind has been preoccupied with a question that’s easy to ask, but much more difficult to answer:
How could Suggested Sites and more advanced controls work on mobile?
Providing Firefox Desktop users with more control over the sites they see on New Tab is relatively straightforward. The user is likely seated, focused entirely on the large screen in front of them, and is using a mouse pointer to activate hover states. These conditions are appropriate for linear, deliberate interactions. Therefore, New Tab on desktop can take advantage of the inherent screen real estate and mouse precision to support advanced actions like editing or adding sites. And since New Tab is literally one page, users can’t get really get “lost”.
Mobile is altogether different. The user may be standing, sitting, or on the move. Their attention is divided. Screens are physically smaller, yet still support resolutions comparable to larger desktop displays. More importantly, there aren’t any hover states, and mobile interactions are imprecise (which is maybe why we call them “gestures”). Because of this imprecision on handheld screens, a tap often launches another view or state that may the user to another destination – and after a few taps, the user may find themselves down a navigational rabbit hole that’s cumbersome to climb out of. Combined, these factors sometimes make it hard to perform complex actions on a mobile device. Likewise, any action made by the user should be minimal, simple to perform, and always contextual.
Taking all of the above into consideration, the following is an early peek at my vision for the New Tab experience on Firefox Android, with user control in mind.
Today, New Tab shows a two-column grid of rectangles depicting Websites they recently visited. While it may make the destination page easier to see, this is an inefficient use of space.
By shrinking the rectangles, more of them can fit onto the page; and by showing a logo instead of a Web page (when possible), identifying individual sites becomes easier too. These smaller “tiles” could even be grouped, just as the user would group apps on their device home screen.
Some folks may also be interested in discovering something entirely new on the Web. The future New Tab could serve suggested content for these users, based on their browsing history (and with permission, of course). But instead of commandeering a tile, suggestions could be delivered natively, and in line with the user’s history list.
Quick and painless suggestions
Viewing suggested content in other applications typically launches a new app or another tab in the user’s browser. Yet it only takes a second or two for the user to decide if the content is actually interesting to them. Personally, I think it would be better to give users a preview of the content, and then give them the option of dismissing it or continuing on without leaving the page they’re on.
Shown above, I image that after tapping a suggested item, New Tab could slide away to the left, revealing a preview of the suggested content beneath. If the user scrolls to view more content, a button then slides into view at the bottom of the screen, taking them the destination page suggested on-tap. If they aren’t interested in reading further, they would simply tap the navigation bar (below the search bar) to return to New Tab. Meanwhile, they never actually “left” the original screen.
Drag-and-drop Web addresses
However, if the user does find the suggested content interesting, then they should be able to add the destination site directly to New Tab. One solution may be allowing users to drag-and-drop a Web address from the search bar and into New Tab. Perhaps by dragging the address onto another tile, users could even create a new group of related sites.
If a user doesn’t care for a particular suggestion, however, then deleting it – or any item on New Tab, for that matter – should be as easy as dragging it off either edge of the screen. Borrowing from another popular email application, swiping an item would reveal the word “delete” beneath, further reinforcing the action being performed. Naturally, this may sometimes happen by accident. As such, a temporary button could appear that allows the user to retrieve the item previously listed, then disappear after a few seconds.
Alternatively, a user could add a new site directly from New Tab. Tapping the “+” button would launch a native keyboard and other controls, allowing them to search for a URL, define the tile’s appearance, or opt-out of related content suggestions. For extra clarification – and a little fun – the user would literally “build” their tile in real-time. Selecting any URL from the search bar dropdown would update the example tile shown, displaying a logo by default. Or, the user may choose instead to show an image of the destination homepage, or the last page they visited.
What I’ve proposed should be taken with a few grains of salt. For one, I believe that limiting the need for new, fancy gestures encourages adoption and usage. Likewise, many of these interactions aren’t especially novel. In fact, most of them are intended to mimic native functions a user may find elsewhere on his or her Android device. My ultimate goal here was to introduce new features available on Firefox that won’t require a steep learning curve.
For another, the possibilities for New Tab on mobile devices are numerous, and exciting to think about – but any big changes are a long ways away. By the time a new big update for Firefox on Android lands, this post will probably to totally irrelevant. But in the meantime, I hope to plant a few seeds that will take root and develop further as my team, and many others at Mozilla, contemplate the future of Firefox for the mobile Web.