What’s really the future of browsers?

Banner Image showing browsers in an illustration
Source: Kasia Bojanowska on Dribbble

The meaning of personal computing is and has been shifting to a far more crowded and collaborative mode. This shift, particularly accelerated by a pandemic, has been the ideal breeding for web apps to serve as hubs for getting work done.

Tools like Figma and VS Code have seen rapid growth and adoption to essential and have become industry standards. Notion has made management easy and accessible to individuals and teams, and even tools like to-do lists are benefiting from the rich web experience, not to mention another industry standard. This trend seems to be indicative of greater browser use and less interaction with the native operating system applications. Browsers are no longer a window to the web; it is transforming into a workspace for both personal and professional lives of users.

During the dawn of the mobile app industry, web apps were going through their dark ages. Having a hard time adjusting to smaller screens, websites were fighting a war on two fronts. At one end, they were finding it difficult to serve a good experience on mobile devices, and at the same time, the majority of users were transitioning to mobile. However, these problems would come to an end with the introduction of powerful JavaScript frameworks like React and improved web technologies, plunging us into the web2 era. There are a few other mechanisms that help web apps be better than their desktop counterparts.

The web platform and where it’s at today

Developing and maintaining digital products is a complex undertaking. The platform a team chooses for their venture is a crucial decision as it decides a lot of other constraints. The web platform allows a lot more flexibility in terms of what you can and cannot do. Not requiring to adhere to any of the OS guidelines, the web experience is also easier to update and maintain. This has also pushed mobile apps to incorporate in-app browsers so that you don’t have to push app updates in a lot of cases, and with frameworks like React Native for mobile and Electron for desktop, teams no longer need to maintain dedicated teams for different operating systems.

Screenshot of web and mobile app of Obsidian, a note taking app
Source: Obsidian.md

A great case study to see what these experiences might look like is to see a note-taking app, Obsidian.md. Their mobile app is a port of their web app through Capacitor. This is really exciting for smaller teams as they can develop a rich experience regardless of the platform. Obsidian mobile has all the features of its desktop counterpart, even the support of custom CSS themes and external plugins, all of which are synced across multiple devices.

The web has relatively lower barrier to entry

The entry-level for using a web app has never been easier. With even content ever-present online thanks to Netflix, Google providing a highly robust office suite and messaging tools like Slack being deeply integrated across the internet, a user doesn’t have to install anything to get started. Browsers serve as workspaces and have more utilitarian purposes than just going from one link to another.

The web is performant (enough)

Since web apps do not run as close to the hardware, they do not provide the same level of performance as native apps. However, products like Notion, Figma and many others are leading the charge in terms of what is possible. Although these products are not stress-tested enough, they have proved that web apps can be (or appear to be) as seamless as native apps whilst also having the superpowers of collaboration.

These reasons seem to be compelling enough as players like Microsoft and Adobe shift their biggest products to the web.

An illustration depicting future of browsing
Source: Kasia Bojanowska on Dribbble

Web apps have had a tremendous rising, whereas web browsers seem to have remained stagnant. The browsing experience, bookmarking, history and extensions haven’t changed much, if at all. Given that web apps are becoming powerful tools, browsers need to become better at providing the infrastructure around these tools. They need to evolve in order to support complex workflows. It’s ironic, but browsers are suffering the same problems that desktop apps do, and they can surely use some modernisation.

Browsers and how we look at them are going through an overhaul

Looking at browsers in this new light, we can think of them as a dashboard of sorts for your entire gamut of interactions online. Additionally, as a power tool, the browser can improve a lot on their existing systems and also bring in complimentary modules to support them. Let’s discuss some of the systems that can use a bit of rethinking.


It all starts with the homepage. Although it’s great to read about the simple and minimal aesthetic Google pioneered with its search, it simply doesn’t cut it anymore. The browser homepage is arguably one of the best real estate to be used to curate your internet and to customise it to the way you work. Browsers have often relied on extensions for these types of use cases, but even open-source projects like nighttab feel clunky, cumbersome and static.

A gif of a custom homepage interface
Some enthusiasts take things into their own hands by building custom homepage interfaces. Source Jaredk3nt on Github

Bookmarking and history

Given that the base unit browsers work on is a URL, it would seem trivial that browsers provide a robust system to manage them. While there are bookmarks and history, it’s the way they are treated that leaves something to be desired. Even with recent updates like Bookmark groups in Safari, they are rather pale in comparison to dedicated bookmarking apps like mymind or Raindrop.

Browsing history is one of the most under-utilised data points that are ripe for interesting analytics and useful automation. Safari again leads this by integrating Siri suggestions, which, if we are being honest, not the most useful.

Tools and extensions

As mentioned before, browsers tend to outsource a lot of the functionalities to extensions — which in theory, is great and has worked for apps like Figma and VS Code. The trouble, however, lies in accessing them through a rather archaic extension store on Chrome or, if you are on safari, browsing through very limited extensions on the App store. The in-app stores for plugins have been mastered by VS Code, which is one of the key reasons for its popularity. It’s key that extension stores get a coat of fresh paint, and the API keeps on developing to make them more powerful.

Screenshot from VS Studio Code
VS Code extensions are community developed and make the product amazingly versatile. Source: VS Studio Code

Browser is no longer used in read-only mode; it is important to be able to interact and use that information. The other aspect of having a store for plugins is also creating good base plugins for different workflows. For example, tools like reader mode can be extended by providing highlighting and managing reading links and other tools for capturing information like saving images should be built in.


The shift from local to the cloud is also a shift from working in a silo to collaboration. With each of us sharing more digital experiences together, it makes sense to bake this right into browsing as well. The recent “Shared with you” feature on Safari, for example, brings any link shared with you directly to your browser.

A gif showing ‘Shared with you’ interaction on Safari
The “shared with you” view brings in links from your messages directly to Safari. Source: 8Bit

The new release of Chrome also got some sense of hint at future collaboration features with the introduction of different profiles. For now, the feature is to have multiple workspaces, but it can easily be extended to do things like Google Meet calls (something Figma has implemented expertly).

A gif showing how Chrome profile lets you have different spaces for different work.
Chrome profile lets you have different spaces for different work. Source: Google

Browsers are definitely shifting to a power tool category. The heavy reliance on browsers means that the expectations are also increasing from what a browser provides other than a good browsing experience.

Although the space is dominated by Chrome, new browsers are bringing these fresh ideas to life. Arc, a new-age browser, aims to be built with the same philosophy that the browser should be your space on the internet. It brings modern paradigms like command bar and workspaces into the mix. Another cool new project is Orion which is built on WebKit instead of chromium — but supports chrome plugins! It’s clear that the browser space is longing for some disruption, and although none of the products right now is perfect, they are all moving in the same direction. Browsers need to match (if not exceed) the speed at which the Internet is evolving.

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