It takes either a very brave or very foolish company to enter the browser wars. But that is exactly what AT&T is doing—in a small way. I was just shown a demo for Pogo, a 3D browser based on Mozilla that is in private beta (we should be getting invites in a couple weeks). It is a project that comes out AT&T’s business development group and Vizible, a Toronto-based company whose 3-D rendering engine gives Pogo a very different look than other browsers. (AT&T is an investor in Vizible). “The concept is not to rebuild the browser,” says Vizible founder and CTO Anthony Gallo, “it is to extend it.” For the foreseeable future, Pogo will only be available for Windows machines.
Pogo works like a regular browser, but it manages pages more visually (see screenshots below). Instead of tabs, it has a scrollable strip on the bottom that shows a thumbnail image of each site you’ve visited during your session. A “Springboard” button on the top left takes you to a grid view of your favorite sites—akin to what you might put on your bookmark toolbar. You can also view the rectangular cells in various Coverflow-like animations. You can do the same with regular bookmarks, which are treated as “collections.” You can drag Website images into each collection or associate a collection with a tag. Then any page you tag going forward gets automatically placed within that collection. Your browsing history is also represented visually, as is your search history. For any particular search, every page you click through to gets saved as part of yet another collection—although you can only see one search set at a time.
A big turnoff, though, is that there are also banner ads in the Springboard and other visual modes. And the search bar is limited to Google and some AT&T-owned product-, image-, and Yellow-Pages-search engines. You can’t swap in another search engine, at least through the beta. Oh, and it only works on Windows.
The visual tricks are neat, but at this early stage I am not sure how many people would ditch their existing browsers for better visualizations. Does it let you browse faster or more efficiently than you could before? I am not sure it does. In any case, AT&T would have been better off releasing this as a plug-in for Firefox. But presenting the Web in a richer, more visual way is definitely part of a bigger user-interface trend we’ve been seeing, especially in search (SearchMe, Snap, and ManagedQ come to mind).
Where Pogo is going is more interesting than where it is at this early stage. Imagine being able to manage all your media—video, audio, photos—through the same visual interface. If Pogo allowed me to “collect” Web videos, photos, and music, and manage them in a unified way like I can with media on my desktop, that would be a big step in the right direction. Check out the video below of Pogo in action, which was taken by my colleague John Biggs of CrunchGear. Towards the end you will see some shots of the underlying Vizible technology, which I personally find more exciting.