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First Look: Life, a web browser optimized for the iPad



Developer Saied Ghaffari's company, It's About Time, should be well known to TUAW readers. We highlighted the widget iPad app the company created, which regretfully never made it to the App Store. Apple essentially banned all widget apps, so Saied and company decided to try something different: creating a web browser optimized for touch navigation on the iPad.

The result is the Life Web Browser. Ghaffari's team looked at the shortcomings of Safari and alternatives such as Perfect Browser before beginning design. Safari doesn't provide tabbed browsing, and tapping any link opens a new window that must be loaded prior to viewing. Perfect Browser adds tabs, but Ghaffari's team found that tabs weren't exactly the best interface for navigating an iPad browser. In addition, tapping a link opens a new tab and the user must wait for that tabbed window to load.

Life is built upon WebKit, the heart of Safari, so any features that are added to future versions of Safari should make it into Life. But that is where the resemblance ends.

Life comes preloaded with a number of popular websites and will automatically remember your favorite sites as you use the app. While you're looking at the home page in Life, you'll notice the edges of two other pages, one to the left and another to the right. To navigate to these other sites, you can use the left / right arrows at the bottom of the page (which conveniently have the name of the sites on them), touch one of the edges (this works well when you're holding the iPad in both hands), or swipe right or left using four fingers. You swipe through sites as if you are swiping through pictures in iPhoto.

Other gestures work as usual: a one-finger swipe for scrolling a page and two fingers for zooming in and out. Three fingers navigate back and forward on one page.

The "side pages" are loading while you're looking at a page. When you're ready to move to one of your other favorite pages, they're already loaded and ready to view. Want to view a page in full screen mode with no buttons or the address bar? Tap the full-screen button at the bottom of the screen to toggle full-screen viewing on and off.

The Q (queue) button is the key to another powerful feature. Let's say you're checking out TUAW. Tap the Q and then tap on post headlines or links. As you do this, you'll see pages added to a "stack" for the site. Those are the individual posts and linked pages being loaded behind the scenes. When you're ready to start reading, tap the up and down arrows at the top of the page to move through the stack. Most of the time those pages will already be downloaded and ready to view.

You can share a page with someone without leaving Life Web Browser by tapping the email link button. The address bar works for entering URLs and Google searches, and Google suggestions appear underneath the address bar.

Another feature of Life Web Browser is picture bookmarks. Add a page to your bookmarks, and you see a thumbnail image of it in the bookmarks. There's a video tutorial that appears when you launch Life the first time, and it remains in the bookmarks for future reference.

With a user interface designed specifically for iPad, Life is sure to be a popular web browser for the platform.

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