Balancing Features Versus Legacy Browsers

Google recently announced that for the purposes of Google Docs it will only be supporting the most recent versions of Chrome, Explorer, Firefox, and Safari plus their immediate prior versions, on a rolling basis. The reason for their new policy is that a lot of helpful features such as drag-and-drop for files can only be used with browsers that support HTML5.

At Brightmetrics, we’ve made the decision to offer a similar support model.

We get so used to focusing on the content of the websites we visit that we often forget that the browser we use is what mediates between our computer and the site we’re accessing. But the fact is that an increasing number of sites want to utilize features that simply aren’t supported by previous generations of browser technology. As web content becomes more application-like we need application-type features to be supported in our browsers. And then the question becomes: how readily will browsers on mobile devices keep pace? Because sure as anything, if we can do something on our computers we’ll want to do the same thing on our smartphones and tablets.

If the browser people are right and more and more of our digital experience moves to the cloud, we’ll end up with a environment where we might be accessing something one minute through a smartphone and then seamlessly transition to a desktop environment – all while enjoying the same user experience, modified only by the size of display available from each device. We may even get to the point where applications “glide” between environments, so that one user will be able to “slide” an application or web page to another user by means of near field communication (NFC) protocols tightly integrated with cloud-based APIs.

But what will all this technical magic stuff mean for us, the people who use applications to get our jobs done or enrich our personal lives? It will mean that yesterday’s web will become a distant memory. If we don’t automatically upgrade on a regular basis we’ll find ourselves becoming locked out of the digital universe. Backward compatibility is a worthy aim but it imposes the price of feature stagnation – so it’s not going to happen. Instead, we’re just at the beginning of an explosion of capabilities that will radically change the way we interact with our devices and the experiences we get from them. Think how amazingly different the iPhone is from its rotary-dial ancestor, or even the first Motorola “brick” cellular phones. That’s just a foretaste of the scale of the changes that will come over the coming decade.

These new digital tricks will enable more compelling – you might even say addictive – user experiences. They will make new business interactions possible – already you can exchange virtual business cards just by putting two devices close together. Imagine sharing data with a trusted colleague or friend simply by tapping your tablet against his. Or integrating data from a contact management system into a spreadsheet model just by dragging your finger from one icon to another.

But all these new tricks will only be possible if we’re all utilizing compatible technology. And that means staying on the hamster wheel, ensuring we all have the latest upgrades, and reaping the benefits of frenetic innovation.

I’m interested in hearing your ideas on this. You can email me at jlewis@brightmetrics.com

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