Blog Post

Why the mobile browser bookmark is dead to me

Quick quiz: When is the last time you added a bookmark to the browser on your mobile phone?

I actually can’t remember when I did this last. And that got me thinking: Why is that, considering we now have plenty of options that can sync bookmarks from desktops and laptops to mobile devices? Maybe it’s just me, but what was once a heavily used feature is dead to me now.


I wasn’t always like this though. I remember using sync services such as Xmarks and Weave, for example, that kept bookmarks in sync between a computer and my [company]Microsoft[/company] Windows Mobile device in 2009. Google added similar support across devices that use its Chrome browser not long after that, eventually adding mobile support. In 2010, Firefox Home did the same for iPhones as Apple too offered bookmark sync, first through MobileMe and now with its iCloud service.

So what has changed? At least two aspects have noticeably impacted my use of mobile bookmarks. The first is the world of mobile apps.

Nexus 5 app transition

Nearly all of the websites I used to hit heavily on a handset now have native apps. That ranges from [company]Facebook[/company] and Twitter to my local bank to [company]Amazon[/company] and more. I still visit many of those same destinations on my desktop through the web because for all intents and purposes, the website is the app in that environment. There’s no Amazon app for my desktop, nor is there one for TD Bank, for example. On the computer, the browser is the app and the site is my destination. Not so on a phone or tablet that has an app option.

Even many the websites I read on a daily basis have mobile apps: Think New York Times, CNN, ESPN and other mainstream media providers. Sure, I can hit those sites on my phone’s browser but in many cases, the native apps offer more value, better layouts or important notifications for topics of interest that a site can’t provide. Instead of saving hundreds of mobile bookmarks then, I’ve instead transitioned to hundreds of apps.

But what about websites that don’t have a native app? Unsurprisingly, modern mobile browsers are much better than they were just two or three years ago. Thanks to advanced features such as showing sites that I frequently visit or website autocompletion, I can typically get to a favorite mobile website with a tap or two. That’s not much more effort — if any, really — than tapping a bookmarks button and navigating through a list of saved sites.

safari frequently visited

I actually do use the mobile browser feature that shows what tabs I have open on other devices. That’s handy for when I’m surfing on a desktop and have to walk away with my phone: I can pick up where I left off on a website with my handset. But that’s more of an activity sync; not a bookmark sync.

Chrome for Android is faster and feature packed! Thumbnail

Just for fun, I posed the question of mobile bookmark use to my Gigaom editorial colleagues. It’s a small sample size, of course, but we’re a team of highly mobile individuals and our smartphones are often lifelines to our work. Turns out that nobody on the team uses mobile bookmarks; in fact, some of the younger crowd didn’t know there was a way to keep bookmarks on the smartphone. A few folks, however, have created a small number of website shortcuts on device home screens; effectively making a one-touch bookmark.

So maybe it’s not just me after all. Perhaps the app economy and better browsers have slowly killed off mobile bookmarks.

I’d love to hear from readers on if and how they use bookmarks on their smartphones. As for me, I’m disabling app sync between my desktop and mobile browsers: There’s no point in synchronizing the data when apps and browser features have diminished the value of my mobile bookmarks.

18 Responses to “Why the mobile browser bookmark is dead to me”

  1. For me, Reading List on iOS and OSX, along with the simultaneous open websites that I can see from both my mac’s iCloud button and mobile devices’ tabs view make up everything I’d need. I use reading List for articled I want to read–but not now, and the ones I want to read as I transition from mac to device (or vice versa) really just come up automatically. I agree: bookmarks are dead.

  2. I mainly use Pocket to bookmark pages for reading later.

    But here’s an interesting thing. On my iPhone I don’t bookmark anything as such. Safari syncs my desktop bookmarks, so I can generally get to important pages just by typing the first character or two of the site name.

    Meanwhile on my Windows Phone (I’m tech journalist, having two phones makes sense in my world) I do use the Favourites feature all the time.

    Presumably this has something to do with the two user interfaces. I’ve never thought too hard about why my actions should be so different on the two operating systems. Perhaps someone with more UI expertise could explain this?

  3. Charles Nichols

    Well, I use bookmarks a lot in Chrome and like the way they are integrated into your page view hierarchy so that using the back button gets you back to the bookmarks folder you were in. Miss that when using Chrome on the desktop.

  4. mwexler

    I can’t tell you how much I miss bookmarks. By making the experience cruder and cruder, mobile browsers have destroyed my primary way of keeping knowledge. Evernote? Please, all that overhead to just capture a link. When I think of how great it was to know that I had a way to get to a site I wanted to revisit using my naming and tagging choices, and not have to try to search on some random terms hoping to stumble onto it in a massive search engine…. sigh. I really, really miss bookmarks.

  5. I also still have usage for bookmark I use Evernote for bookmarks I may need in the future (travel idea etc) , it is easy to add from the browser and easy to search since it include text from the first paragraph (or all if needed) of an article.
    I use Centask for actionable boomarks (hotel to reserve etc.) that are part of my task list

  6. Kazieâ„¢

    I still have major usages of bookmarks: 1) Keeping search queries for Web search sites like Google. 2) Keeping track of items I might consider purchasing in the future. 3) Keeping related sites/articles on a subject hierarchically organized in one location.

  7. Bookmarks in iOS continue to be easier to edit and arrange. Last time addition? Yesterday.

    Apps instead of bookmarks? Not when so many are crap. CNN’s app is worse than their TV news, nowadays – and that’s abysmal. I don’t think my usability requirements are out of the ordinary. 90% of apps I try are deleted within 5 minutes – and generally they came to mind because some other geek online “recommended” them.

    Nope, bookmarks still serve me well. As do apps. But, wandering through the dross produced by so many amateurish coders – regardless of who employs them – still isn’t often worth the effort.

    • True, it has become much easier to save and manage bookmarks. My not using them has nothing to do with the effort it takes to save or edit them. They still serve a purpose for sure; just less so for some given other options.

  8. nick carrasco

    What killed mobile bookmarks for me was PushBullet and Pocket. The only thing I was really using bookmarks for was saving pages for later…Pocket solves that nicely, and syncing bookmarks to my desktop browser…well that is where PushBullet rocks. So no, mobile bookmarks….now no more. And as for sites I regularly visit I just type the name and let Google or DuckDuckGo provide me the link…heck I basically do the same thing on the desktop with the addition of autocomplete….overall I’m using bookmarks less and less everywhere

  9. I don’t think I’d ever used them until the Google Stars leaked happened and motivated me to painstakingly organize my bookmarks. Since then I’ve bookmarked a few things I’ve stumbled upon that I wanted to buy or a tutorial I looked up while out and about. Normally I’d use Pocket but I like having nested folders and auto-complete… And I never actually remember to go back and read things I saved to Pocket.

  10. Ormy Underhill

    My Opera Mobile Browser speed dial serves as a few facto homepage. There are 30plus site icons looking at me at once, Giga Om included, and accessible with one touch. It saves data and one quickly bounces from one to the other.
    BTW it has a handy “save for offline” reading that can be grouped I’m a single file icon on the same screen.

  11. Cold Water

    I certainly don’t need separate apps when “New York Times, CNN, ESPN and other mainstream media providers” are also accessible in my web browser. It’s one of the maximum two applications that the (only recently retired) iPad 2 can simultaneously hold in memory without the delay of “restoring”.

    So help you if you’re running Feedly and a web browser and want to check the email that just came in.

  12. Kevin Darty

    I always prefer a native App where possible. Like many people, I have a select list of places I haunt and those places are all pretty well covered by native Apps which make visiting them through a browser unnecessary. Not only that but the experience in an App is often more pleasing to me.

    Usually if I have a need to share the content, the App will accommodate that and if I want to check it out in an actual Web Browser, most native Apps handle that too.

    In that regard, browsers are used for look ups and visiting a small number of web sites that don’t have native Apps or any other way to read their content (such as a News Reader, etc). In these case, I use a browser but such use is so limited, I don’t find a need to create a bookmark.

    On Android it is very popular to use Native Apps for such things and they usually always incorporate Android’s “share” intents which make using them such a pleasant experience. Up until iOS 8, the same couldn’t be said about such Native Apps on iOS. Hence I believe a lot of people used specialized Web Browsers that incorporated their own proprietary “sharing” mechanism.

    Apps like this on iOS before iOS 8 were a necessity for bloggers and social media users that needed to have a streamlined workflow for saving and sharing content.

    It is my theory that year after year as Mobile Web Browser reports come out always showing that iOS users surf the Web more than Android users that this lack of capabilities built into the system was forcing users to rely on customized Web Browsers. The analytics all pointed to the same thing “high mobile web browser use on iOS”.

    With the new Extensions built into iOS 8 I suspect that users on iOS will gravitate more to specialized native Apps much like what we’ve seen on Android in the coming months.

    Given that, no, I don’t use Bookmarks at all on Mobile, not even on Desktop. I add everything I want to keep/remember in Pocket where I can easily search for it later. I share to Pinterest Boards to Categorize and Share Content and yes, it is easy then for me to find it there later as well. All of this I can access on Mobile or Desktop. Why would I need Bookmarks? They are kind of antiquated in the big scheme of things today.

  13. I barely use bookmarks at all anymore, even on the desktop. I either get to sites through RSS or G+ links, or I type the first letter or two in the, whaddayacall, “omnibox” and let autocomplete do the rest of the work.


    and one day the natural evolution of browsers, seamlessly embedded into the OS, will blur the frontier between apps & web, when what we’ll need will just been an execution/display layer for the info from the internet, an execution layer common to all connected devices. Coming soon ;-)