Rockmelt, the social web browser, is continuing its effort to rethink the mobile browsing experience with a new app for iPhone.
The app, which launched on Thursday, combines a traditional web browser with a social news reader. In addition to letting you search for a particular keyword or URL, the app also populates the main page with articles from your favorite publications or shared by other users that you follow. This way, even if you never search for something on the web, the web will still come to you.
Rockmelt first introduced this functionality with its iPad app that came out in October. The main goal for both the iPhone and iPad app, according to the company's CEO Eric Vishria, is to create a more dynamic browsing experience for mobile that isn't just a carbon copy of the desktop browsing experience. "What people have done on the mobile side is build a sad and boring translation of what has been done on the desktop," he said.
There's also a more fundamental goal for Rockmelt as a company. It wants to remake itself as a mobile-first product.
Rockmelt started out as a social browser for desktop in 2010 and has since gone on to attract about 4 million users for that product. In early 2011, the company launched their first attempt at an iPhone app, which was essentially a companion to the desktop browser and focused on a much more standard web browsing experience. However, the team decided to pull that iPhone app from the App Store and stop any more people from downloading the desktop app when the team launched the iPad app earlier this year in an effort to rebuild the Rockmelt experience around that new app.
In the two months since the company launched its iPad app, Rockmelt has found that the average user spends 2.1 sessions per day on the app and looks at about 200 news tiles, tapping through to read eight of them and sharing about four each day. Vishria says the amount of sharing they've seen from the iPad app is six times greater than from the desktop browser, suggesting that their new strategy has worked in boosting engagement among users.
The new iPhone app is similar to the iPad app in many ways. You can filter the stream of content from the websites you follow by category, slide articles to a "Kept Items" column on the right to read later and offer feedback on stories using Rockmelt's set of emotive tags like "lol" and "wtf?" Best of all, the app syncs seamlessly with the iPad version so your feeds and saved articles are synced on both.
There are some key differences between the iPhone and iPad apps, however. For starters, the news feed is a single column on the iPhone to accommodate the smaller screen, though it switches to a two-column feed when you hold the phone horizontally. The team has also designed the app to make sure that users can navigate anywhere with just their thumb, whether its tapping the Rockmelt logo to get to the top of the page to type in a URL, or tapping the bottom corner of each tile to bring up the feedback tags.
"The iPhone supports much more of a snacking model," Vishria says. "You dip in while in line or waiting for something. Often when you do that, it's with just one hand, so we really wanted to design for your opposable thumb."
As with the iPad app, the actual experience of searching for a particular website in the browser tab can be a bit disorienting at first. Typing in the name of a URL doesn't actually bring up the website, but rather a list of tiles, one of which will likely take you to the website itself. Then again, if the app works as intended, users won't have as much of a need to search for specific websites since they'll have the best of the web right in front of them.source: