If mindlessly browsing the internet is your preferred way to combat boredom and waste time, the indie app makers behind to-do list app Clear and game Heads Up! have a new product you’ll want to try: Web Roulette, a mobile web browser app for iOS built for the short attention spans of the TikTok era. With the debut version out now, you can add your favorite websites or choose from its suggestions, then swipe through the sites to see what’s new or shake the app for a surprise webpage when boredom strikes.
The team says the idea initially struck them as something of a joke. But they soon realized the idea of a ‘swipeable,’ shakable web browser that delivered our daily hits of dopamine may actually have merit.
“I mean, this is actually how I spend much of my time browsing the web – I bounce back and forth mindlessly and semi-randomly between my favorite sites, hoping for something fresh. Maybe there’s something here?,” explains Impending founder and designer Phill Ryu.
The Impending team is known for having designed several popular apps, including Heads Up! for The Ellen Degeneres Show, still the No. 2 paid game in the U.S. a decade after its launch; the clever to-do list sensation Clear that went viral after its 2012 arrival and is working on a big update; and, more recently, the pandemic hit game to play with kids, Here Kitty!, which helps toddlers burn off energy by seeking out a hidden meowing iPhone in your home.
Similar to Impending’s past creations, the new app Web Roulette, is also designed to be simple, addictive, and fun to use.
To get started, you’ll first enter your favorite websites, or you can pick from a provided list of suggestions, which includes news sites, like NYT as well as aggregators like Google and Yahoo News, or those dedicated to specific topics, like tech (TC, e.g., 💅), pop culture, gaming, lifestyle, sports, business, fashion, and more. You can also select from popular social sites, like Reddit, Pinterest, Instagram, and Twitter, or top shopping destinations, like Amazon, Etsy, Wirecutter, and others.
We appreciated that there was no sign-up screen to get in the way of using the app right away, too.
After you complete setup, you’ll get a little celebration with confetti spilling over your screen and a prompt to “get spinning,” You can then swipe left to browse your favorite sites — a process that charges up shakes. That is, the more you swipe, the more chances you have to shake the phone for a surprise website.
There are a few roadblocks upon first use, as sites like Instagram, Twitter, or Reddit, for instance, ask for logins, and some sites still prompt you through a banner to use their app, even after you’ve opted for the mobile web version. But after you get through these initial hurdles, Web Roulette is easy to use as all you have to do is swipe.
Despite its simplicity, the app showcases the design expertise of its makers, as the animation that brings a new webpage into view feels like something Apple would have built — the new page snaps into the foreground quickly, with seemingly no loading time necessary in most cases.
One challenge, however, is that swiping through Instagram photo carousels isn’t possible because that triggers the swipe gesture in Web Roulette and a new website will load instead. You also can’t move backward to return to a site if you swiped by mistake — you’ll just have to wait for it to roll around again.
Meanwhile, if you do want to save something you’re reading for deeper dive later, the app supports sharing and will pop up the iOS Share Sheet to provide options. From here, you can share a link to other apps, like mobile messengers, social apps, clipboard utilities, and third-party browsers (though oddly not Safari), or you can send the link via iMessage or AirDrop to yourself or a friend, among other things.
The app offers a few other perks as well, like built-in ad blocking and both haptic and sound feedback, if your iPhone’s volume is turned up. The latter makes it feel almost as if you’ve made a game of reading the web with tinkling chimes that increase in pitch until you’ve browsed through all the sites you have saved.
Of course, there’s more fun to be had by shaking the site for a surprise website, something that immediately reminded us of the early web sensation StumbleUpon. Lyu confirms this is a common point of reference.
“I’ve been hearing some compare it to StumbleUpon…I like how this improves the mindless browsing experience by giving you an easy way to discover and explore interesting new things,” he explains. Plus, he adds, a bit of the inspiration came from seeing other new web browser ideas gain traction, throwing a little shade at newcomer Arc in the process.
“[Web Roulette] started one day when [Impending team member] Austin [Sarner] and I were checking out Arc Browser, and he said something along the lines of, like, ‘This is cool, but I don’t really get it. $20 million of funding? We could make a simpler and better mobile browsing experience in an afternoon.’,” says Lyu. (Arc says it has raised over $17 million, but you get the idea.)
Over the next couple of months, whenever Lyu mentioned Arc, Sarner would repeat this same sentiment.
“…One day we were in a car stuck in traffic and I kind of jokingly suggested, ‘ok what if it’s a browser with almost no UI and entirely random, like the way I mindlessly check the internet on my computer.’ That’s where it clicked,” says Lyu. “I don’t think I’m the only one slightly embarrassed to admit how much of my web browsing is that form of mindless internet checking, so there was some real truth and substance to this half-joke of an idea,” he adds.
(Lyu clarifies he thinks Arc is cool and staffed by creative folks, but Impending’s perspective tends to be “more toy-like and simpler” and, well, “indie.”)
While Impending recommends adding around 10 websites for the best experience, you can add up to 20 sites in total. Though heavy news consumers may still opt to get their news through a dedicated aggregator, like Apple News, or an RSS reader like Feedly, Web Roulette makes sense for those who engage with the web more casually, darting around in between open browser tabs, perhaps. Or it works as a general time-waster for anyone looking to fill a few minutes without having to jump around various websites and apps.
Impending team members Phill Ryu, Austin Sarner, Tamas Zsar, and David Lanham, developed the app which they’ve been teasing ahead of launch via Clear’s Twitter.
The app is still a “minimum viably fun product,” as Impending dubs it (aka a version 0.1).
For the time being, the app is free to download and use but the company is considering possible monetization strategies, like charging to add more than 20 sites, for instance. However, Ryu says the app is “not a costly project” so they may just use the app to promote other products, like generating interest in Clear.
Web Roulette is available on the iPhone App Store.