Yandex Gives Its Browser A Minimalist Makeover

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Russian tech giant Yandex has launched a refreshed version of its Chromium-based browser that’s been designed to make the browser itself feel less visible to web users.

Where it is visible, such as the URL bar, it uses translucency and cloaks itself in flat design to de-emphasize its presence. The idea being, says Yandex, to make the web app being used the centre of attention, rather than the software you’re using to view it.

The new look browser is currently only a “concept” — available to download in alpha. The less minimalist, standard Yandex.Browser remains the company’s fully featured main browserat this point.

Design wise, Yandex’s concept browser borrows heavily from Microsoft’s Windows 8 redesign, from two years ago. Which is ironic, given that Yandex, a local search giant in Russia, launched its own browser just over two years ago — but as an answer to search giant Google pushing more forcefully onto its turf.

While the translucency elements of the Yandex browser concept are reminiscent of Apple’s iOS 7 design reboot from last year, which was aiming to lend a feeling of depth to mobile browsing. Yandex says its design aims are to reflect modern web user experience by emphasizing interaction and personalization.

New features

When you download the browser it automatically generates a series of tiles — Yandex calls this a Tableau — based on your most commonly visited websites. These are displayed on an animated backdrop, with very little other interface furniture to clutter up the look and feel of the page:

Yandex.browser

The sites and order of the Tableau is fully editable after the fact. Clicking down on and moving one of the tiles summons an edit interface:

Yandex browser tableau

The background animation can also be changed at this point, with a choice of 12 animations to choose from, displayed in thumbnail form:

Screen Shot 2014-11-28 at 10.10.29 AM

Other flagship features in the new browser are a search box that includes suggestions to answer your query — which Yandex calls SmartBox.

Again queries are displayed over a translucent background to make the browser feel like a layer rather than a destination in itself:

Yandex browser SmartBox

Another feature, called FlipSide, lets you toggle between a search results page and the browser’s SmartBox suggestions page for that search — such as in the below example, where the search is for Wikipedia.

Screen Shot 2014-11-28 at 9.38.14 AM

Here the browser displays search results for “Wikipedia” — using Google as the search engine (the local version of the browser uses Yandex’s own search by default).

But clicking on the FlipSide bar at the top of the page takes you to the below page, which includes SmartBox suggestions and also now displays some browser functions, such as sharing, bookmarking, printing and so on.

These functions remain out of sight if you go straight from browsing for a search to clicking on a result:

Screen Shot 2014-11-28 at 9.38.30 AM

In the browser, tabs for opened web pages are displayed at the bottom of the window — as color-codeed swatches, based on the livery of the original web page.

Multiple pages from the same websites that you have opened in individual tabs are displayed on tabs shaded with the same color and grouped together. These are either rolled up entirely to occupy the space of one tab (signified by a series of dots on the tab), or — when one of these rolled up tabs is clicked — opened out into a connected series of tabs of the same color, with small bars between each one to denote individual pages.

Below a group of TechCrunch tabs has been rolled up:

Screen Shot 2014-11-28 at 9.46.12 AM

And now those same TC tabs are opened out:

Screen Shot 2014-11-28 at 9.45.57 AM

Currently tabs can’t be moved or their order changed but that’s something Yandex is thinking about, noting in its FAQ that dragging tabs will be implemented in a future release.

Other features include a Turbo mode, based on Opera’s technology, which can be used to speed up web browsing on slow Internet connections by compressing webpages before serving them.

The Chromium-based Yandex browser also supports other extensions created for the Chrome and Opera browsers.

The alpha version of the browser is currently available for Mac and Windows and is offered in 15 languages at this point, including English, Russian and Turkish.

For reference, below is a screenshot of the main Yandex browser — the company’s non-conceptual design, which very much resembles the look and feel of Google Chrome:

Yandex browser