The basics of In-App Browsers and how to use them

Web browsers were quite common in the era of PCs and laptops. The scenario has changed with the explosion of tablets and smartphones. Although most of the smartphones are equipped with mobile browsers, users prefer to use mobile apps.

In a survey conducted by market research company Nielsen, it was found that American smartphone users spend four times more on mobile apps than a mobile browser. There are two reasons behind this. Firstly, the mobile apps can shape and define how information should be displayed on the screen. Secondly, mobile browsers cannot define how the information should be displayed. The screen space in mobile browsers is limited by navigation buttons and address bars, resulting in a poor user experience.

Although it is possible to create mobile responsive websites, the mobile version will give you the feel of “something is missing”. The mobile apps provide better control over user experience. The size of buttons and links is reduced in mobile apps, which reduces the risk of unwanted clicks. Similarly, the pinch and zoom screen sizing in mobile apps made browsing much easier. Apps allow developers to control display, making the experience less frustrating.

What are in-app browsers?

In-app browsers allow you to open a web page immediately from the app just by tapping on the link. Remember that the information on the top of the page is generated by the app and not the web page. The information is loaded on the web server. As mobile app usage tends to grow, it is important for users to know the difference between a web browser and in-app browser.

Facebook and Twitter are the most common examples of in-app browsers. The in-app browser of Facebook and Twitter on Android features a read-only navigation bar. On the contrary, the in-app browser on iOS allows users to input the data.

In-app browsers are potentially fast, especially when it comes to external browsers. Even through reputed browsers like Chrome and Opera, are theoretically faster — external browsers take much time to load.

What are the issues solved by in-app browsers?

In-app browser is something you haven’t thought of. The users do not think it as a browser, as it hides in the analytics. It raises a few questions for website owners and marketers. They are not the actual browsers, but a WebView window that runs off the core browser of your device. In-app browsers provide a public method for crude navigation control, giving access to JavaScript environment.

How are in-app browsers different in iOS and Android?

In-app browsers are almost same in iOS and Android. However, there are a few differences between both the in-app browsers. In-app browsers are created by making instances of WebView either by loading a public URL or some content from app’s resource. In-app browsers offer a way to save URLs separately from default browser.

How to integrate in-app browsers in your apps?

Integrating in-app browsers in your app is not a difficult task. There is no WebView chrome, no buttons or no navigation bar. All you need is to load the HTML page consuming as much as the screen you choose. Control it programmatically by the host application. Although you don’t have much resources and time as a traditional browser, you can customize the UI from a different browser.

All the basic features such as tabs, bookmarking, cookies, private browsing, reader mode and shared sessions are free, developers need to put significant efforts to duplicate or improve upon. App developers can even enable some advanced options that are important for app use cases.

What are the issues faced by users when using in-app browsers?

When users browse the content directly from the app, they are not aware of the security risks. One should remember that in-app browsing might put much power in the hands of publishers. For instance, the SSL errors are ignored, as the JavaScript environment is accessible from native code. It means unauthorized publishers can bypass some of the security features that are available in a traditional web browser — so that they can access sensitive data.

In-app browsers lack sharing options, preventing users from copying and saving the links. The lack of sharing options forced waiting periods while the pages are being loaded.

Conclusion

Everyone is familiar with traditional browsers with search functionality, address bars, and buttons to skip forward and backward. In-app browsers are something different from them — as they give us social connections we crave for. In fact cross platform apps use them frequently at times.

In-app browsers are a boon for publishers. The statistics appear convoluted when it is applied from the point of view of a regular browser. In-app web browsers are the fastest way to show rich content. It is hard to comment when the pros and cons of in-app and web browsers are weighed together. One thing we can say is that apps continue to play an integral role in the daily life of people. In-app browsers are likely to address some of the current issues faced by users.

If you using hand-rolled in-app browser within your app, you are no doubt providing a superior browsing experience to the user.

Disclaimer: This post first appeared at: Essential things you should know about In-app browsers and their usage