Raven is a new browser for OS X (Snow Leopard and Lion), currently in beta. What sets it apart from the rest is a sleeker appearance, and a Twitter-esque side panel called the Smart Bar.
What does this Bar do? It acts as a home for what Raven calls “web apps”, which are perhaps best explained with the words “groups of preset per-site bookmarks”.
From the Raven Web App Shop you install new apps with a couple of clicks, and they appear in the Smart Bar. Click on one, and it will expand to reveal a small group of sub-nav icons beneath – these will vary from site to site, and app to app. They’re presets, chosen by the maker of the web app.
For example, in the Amazon app you get direct links to Amazon’s home page, your wishlist, shopping cart, and account overview page. In the Flickr app, you get links to Flickr’s home page, the photos organizer, Flickr Explore, and the upload page.
In other words, a Raven web app is a set of preset locations. You could still get to them using the navigation built into each website, but Raven tries to simplify and unify things with these icons.
It’s an interesting idea, but it has some problems. The Flickr app’s presets don’t include links to your Contacts page, or your Groups page – links that some Flickr users might consider much more important. Generally speaking, Raven’s presets are going to find it hard to appeal to everyone, because everyone will have their own most-used pages of a particular site.
Why not just use good old-fashioned bookmarks? Good question. You can, if you like. It’s possible to hide the Smart Bar from view, and just stick to the kind of browsing you’re used to.
In Raven, you’ll see references to both Bookmarks and Favorites, but they’re not the same thing. In Raven, a favorite is any web page that you want to save for future reference. But a bookmark is a page you want to read later, either in Instapaper or inside Raven itself (but still with an Instapaper-like text-only view).
In the preferences, you can click a button to make Raven your default browser, but I don’t think the app is ready for that yet. Not least because the vast majority of the other preferences remain greyed out for the time being – a little frustrating, but understandable while still in beta mode. There are some weird bugs, too. Most noticeably, opened tabs kept disappearing. Eeek.
Raven’s got some nice ideas. For example, I like the “Mobile/Desktop mode” button, which in theory lets you switch to a cleaner, mobile-friendly version of a site whenever you want to. I couldn’t get it to work, but I liked the idea.
I think I can see what Raven’s aiming for: to bring the icon-centric simplicity of iOS to web browsing. It’s a laudable aim, but there’s still some way to go yet.
In the interests of full disclosure: Raven is an advertiser on this site, but this review was written entirely independently.