Many people would probably not know who Jon von Tetzchner is but if you’ve followed the development of the world wide web, you will remember him as the trailblazing CEO of Opera browser. Opera Browser was one of the more prominent indie web browsers in its heyday which took on the likes of Microsoft’s Internet Explorer when Chrome was just a gleam in Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai’s eye. When Chrome launched a decade later, it was the inflexion point in Pichai’s career which was responsible for his meteoric rise at Google leading up to his ascension as the CEO of the search and advertising company. And under this search and advertising behemoth Chrome has not only become the most dominant web browser since the days of Internet Explorer but also a hoodlum of sorts for users harvesting their data so that advertisers can target them better. Tetzchner who launched Vivaldi nearly half a decade ago has been on a quest to make a Chrome alternative. He’s been hellbent on creating its polar opposite in terms of product philosophy for PC users. Now, we have a desktop-style browser for mobile devices targeting Android phones which is finally out of beta.
Vivaldi’s browser even on Android at its very essence is the anti-Chrome. Chrome has a modern layout with Android multitasking inspired cards for different tabs. Vivaldi is old-school but I’d argue vastly more functional as it has a dedicated tab-bar for switching tabs. You don’t need to enter a different screen to switch tabs but can switch simply by tapping a button on the tab bar.
“We have focused a lot on tabs. Most mobile browsers do not show a tab strip by default, and many users are unaware that they have a lot of tabs open. We have embraced tabs and show them by default in a very pleasant way. We have also made sure that the browser makes the most of landscape mode, which most browsers do not do, using the width of the screen to collect buttons at one end of the screen,” reveals Tetzchner over email.
This philosophy makes a lot of sense even though it may sound archaic. Chrome’s current interface was created when the average size of the smartphone screen was smaller than 5-inches. There was limited real estate which is why tabs were moved behind another button. Today, that average size is upwards of 6-inches with many phones having little to no borders on the edges. People don’t only use their phones more in landscape mode for things like gaming and video; there is more space for buttons. That’s the simplistic genius of the new Vivaldi interface. Don’t be surprised if this is copied by plenty of browsers in the future.
This also translates to better use on larger devices like tablets, even though there are few and far in between on Android. But if Vivaldi were to venture to make something for the iPhone or iPad, this would work very nicely. Vivaldi goes the extra mile to add things like speed dials and also a syncing service for people who use its browser on macOS or Windows.
This is just not only the desktop inspired function. Vivaldi has done a lot of work to make sure that full desktop versions of websites work well on the rather small screen of the phone. Again, many of the decisions that we see on the current crop of mobile browsers harken back to the early 2010s when 4G networks weren’t so prevalent and screen sizes were smaller. There is enough bandwidth combined with on-device horsepower and some would argue enough screen space to now allow for desktop-class experiences on phones. I could for once open the Google Docs browser interface which is richer than the mobile app apart from using my CMS and downloading files directly from Google Drive from within the browser. This feature is handy not only in landscape mode but works even on Chromebooks which support Android applications.
Such features make it a power user’s tool. Vivaldi has another trick up its sleeve for power users — it has notes feature built into the browser. This means you don’t need to jump between another notes app between browsing different web pages.
Another aspect of Vivaldi’s concept of being the antithesis of Chrome is its embrace of non-invasive privacy-first features. Vivaldi has a sophisticated ad-blocker and a tracker blocking system based on the DuckDuckGo search technology. This solution is based on heuristics, learning how websites interact with pages they are used on. It also has the DuckDuckGo Search engine on by default instead of Google or Bing, but users can turn those from the settings menu.
“While we have integrated a list-based tracker blocker utilizing DuckDuckGo Tracker Radar, the solutions are different. We evaluated both approaches but ended up with our current solution as a better solution at this time. We also have the ad blocker, which provides additional blocking and the ability to enable further list based blocking using the included list or downloaded lists,” elaborates Tetzchner adding that the ability to add lists will be added to the mobile browser soon.
Vivaldi also stresses that its new browser is a more robust solution over other popular privacy-focused browsers like Brave. Vivaldi doesn’t replace web advertisements with its own advertising protocol. Its focus is simply to block ads while also not breaking compatibility with some websites. It’s also not as extreme in use like Brave as it doesn’t build user profiles.
“We would prefer to provide privacy, while still allowing websites to work the way they were intended as much as possible. Users should be able to enjoy browsing and make the most of their time, without having to contend with occasional malfunctioning websites,” said Tetzchner.
At the end of the day, the core advantage of Vivaldi is in the fact that it provides a buck load of features that one would usually associate with a desktop browser while also providing the savvy of privacy — all packaged in a form that works surprisingly well. Their issue will be convincing users to switch — time will tell.