Why are Safari and Sherlock two different applications? JAN 08 2003
After playing around with Apple's new Safari web browser for a bit, I am underwhelmed. To the many observations that others have made already (Mark Pilgrim, Matt Haughey, Ben & Mena Trott, Todd Dominey), I will add that the browsers I've seen in the past couple years have added little bits and pieces of useful innovation here and there (Mozilla's tabs, for instance), but none have the complete package of useful features, adherence to HTML & CSS standards, interface niceties, customizability, stability, and speed. Nice as proofs of concept, but none as complete as Netscape 1.1 was in its time.
Safari is still in beta so it might be unfair to criticize too much, but Apple missed an opportunity to innovate the browser in a truly useful way. A web browser is a tool for people to get information from the web. Much recent effort has gone into developing other interfaces through which to do just that. With Watson, Sherlock, and NetNewsWire, you "browse" the web for specific kinds of information with interfaces custom built for each task.
Why the distinction between regular web browsing and web browsing using specialized interfaces for structured data? Using Watson to find movie times is great, but it means having a separate application running...and for ticket purchases, it dumps me back into a web browser anyway. Apple's Sherlock app offers functionality similar to Watson. Why not merge Sherlock and Safari into one application? Whither Sherfari?
I've whipped up a few rough mockups to demonstrate how this would work.
Figure 1 (bigger) shows the current interface for Safari with the addition of an "Apps" button. Ideally this would be a permanent graphical button like the bookmarks button. The apps menu would contain a list of Sherfari applications like Flights, Stocks, Movies, etc.
Figure 2 (bigger) shows the Stocks application loaded into the browser window after being selected from the Apps menu. It works just like it would within Sherlock with a fast, customized interface for looking up stock quotes, viewing charts, and reading related headlines.
Figure 3 (bigger) shows NetNewsWire loaded into the browser window after being selected from the apps menu. Clicking on links in the NetNewsWire app would open those pages in new tabs in the browser. It would be worth the effort for Apple to allow developers to write their own Sherfari apps for tasks that use structured web data. NetNewsWire is an obvious candidate. Ben and Mena could write a app to allow people to post to & manage their Movable Type weblogs. Yahoo! could provide a maps app. How about an app from Amazon for browsing their store? (Watson has something like this.)
Figure 4 (bigger) shows how Safari's Google search box could be extended (a la Andre Torrez's Nutshell). The default search would be Google, but you could select other searches as well, either web searches or searches using the Sherfari apps. Selecting "Google News" and then doing a search would load the results page from Google News into the browser window. Selecting "Movies" would load the Movies app into the window with that movie selected.
This keeps all the activity commonly referred to as "web browsing" in one place. Assuming Apple would also add the capability for tabbed browsing, the Safari/Sherlock combo would be a powerful one. The generic web browser part would allow people to load up any old web page while the applications would allow them to quickly take care of frequent tasks through custom interfaces without the need to load potentially heavy or hard-to-use web pages.
Come on Apple, don't just give us another browser. Give us something that's so damn useful that we'll wonder how we ever did without it.