Rockmelt Hits the iPhone: One Small Step for Social Browsing

This innovative browser has more in common with Pinterest and Flipboard than with Safari.

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A couple of months ago, Rockmelt, the social web browser, arrived in an iPad version which had little in common with the PC/Mac edition — or, for that matter, with any conventional browser.

Rather than dedicating itself primarily to helping you navigate your way around the web on your own, it focused on helping you find content to consume, including stuff shared by your friends on Facebook and Twitter. And it did so with a slick interface that had as much in common with Pinterest and Flipboard as it did with Internet Explorer, Firefox, Chrome and Safari.

Today, the Rockmelt folks have released an iPhone version which takes all the ideas in the iPad one, scales them down to a phone-friendly size and keeps the highly-polished feel. The company provided me with early access to the new app, and I’ve been enjoying using it.

Eric Vishria and Tim Howes, Rockmelt’s founders, told me that they wanted to build an iPhone app you could navigate easily with one thumb. Flicking a story to the right puts it in the sidebar (a sort of hybrid of tabs and bookmarks). Flicking it to the left deletes it. It’s also easy to express the six built-in emotions — Like, Lol, Want, Wtf?, Aww, and Hmm — with two thumb taps. And everything’s extremely zippy — you can scroll through shared items as fast as your thumb can take you.

As with the iPad version, all the articles, videos and other content you peruse are summarized in Pinterest-like tiles; in some cases, tapping on them presents you with a decluttered view based on Safari’s Reader mode. (In others, you just go to the originating web page.) If you use RockMelt in portrait mode, you get one never-ending column of tiles, but flipping your phone into landscape orientation switches to a neat two-column mode.

Just as you’d expect, your friend list and sites you’ve followed get synchronized with the iPad version. So do the pages you’ve saved to the sidebar.

It’s possible to use Rockmelt for iPhone to browse to any web page, but it’s a tad cumbersome: The browser makes suggestions as you type, but doesn’t provide a standard autocomplete feature. I also found that it occasionally refused to load pages at all. And there didn’t seem to be any way to follow random web sites which aren’t in RockMelt’s directory, one of my favorite features in the iPad app.

So even more than the iPad edition, the iPhone one isn’t really a good replacement for Safari or whatever other browser you’re using. Instead, it’s a cool complement to it — a browser which, unlike old-school ones, makes sure that you always have plenty of stuff to browse.