If you have an Android 4.0 device, go to the Market and download it so you can try it yourself. Chrome for Android is a big step for the whole mobile web community and I’m happy for it. It’s still the first beta so there are some things that need some work but in a quick look, it seems stable, fast, nice, and with the latest HTML5 support.
It’s the beginning of the future of some APIs in the mobile world, including Request Animation Frame, FullScreen API, Page Visibility API and IndexedDB. Unfortunately, Chrome is not available yet for Android 2.x and 3.x and WebGL is still out of this version.
I’ve played a couple of hours with the browser and here is my review. I’ll update this post if I find some new information to add or correct. Follow me if you want to get updates.
Do we really need a new browser for Android? The answer depends on our point of view. Android is right now the platform with more options in terms of web browsing: the by-default Android Browser, Opera Mobile, Opera Mini, Firefox, UCWeb and now Google Chrome. Chrome appears in the Android world not as a new browser but as a long-term replacement for Android Browser.
The problem was Android Browser. It was always behind Safari on iOS for iPhone and iPad and it was far away behind its desktop cousin Google Chrome; at least, in terms of HTML5 compatibility. Android Browser had problems in the past and the worst problem from my point of view: it doesn’t auto-update. And we know that Android users –because of vendors and carriers- usually upgrade only one version of the operating systems, so millions of users are prisoners of the same Android Browser version until they upgrade their device.
Today, the future of Android browser has begun. Google has released the first beta version of Google Chrome for Android. Starting from the ground from the Chromium Project instead of the original WebKit-based Android browser, Google did a good job aligning the browsing experience and HTML5 compatibility with the present and future standards.
Chrome Beta is a 17Mb free download available on selected countries via Android Market only for Android 4.0 smartphones and tablets. And that is the first bad news: Gingerbread (2.3) and Honeycomb (3.x) users don’t have a Chrome version now and there is no official communication about a version for those platforms in the future. Currently, only 1% of Android users are under 4.0.
The browser claims to have a faster scrolling experience and I’m not sure yet if SPDY protocol is supported, but I hope so.
One of the most important features for me: it’s an Android app downloaded from the Market. Why this is so important? Because it can be updated in the same way. We will get auto-update feature on Chrome, and that’s the best news we as web developers can receive.
Chrome for Android has a nice UI optimized for tabbed browsing using a new tab browsing experience compared to Android Browser. You can flip/swipe between tabs, as in webOS (if you are creating a touch game, you should avoid use the edges).
It supports Incognito mode (private mode) and a feature called Bandwidth management that preload pages when you are using Wi-Fi. There is no information on how this feature works (rel=preload maybe?) but I believe the search bar is using it. When you search something the first results are being preloaded by default if you are on Wi-Fi.
The user interface includes a fixed URL bar, a tab button and a menu button. The URL bar is always visible and there is no way to hide it, as in Safari for iOS or even Android Browser. The URL bar doesn’t show the page’s title or the page’s icon, just the URL.
I really like the new feature called Link Preview that will make a quick zoom on areas with lots of links in a site without a mobile viewport (see image below). This feature helps the user selecting the right link.
Of course, if you sign in with your Google Account, you will get full synchronization between Chrome for Desktop and Chrome for Android, search suggestions, opened tabs, history and bookmarks.
To avoid misdetection of Chrome for Android as a desktop, the user agent looks like:
Mozilla/5.0 (Linux; U; Android 4.0.2; en-us; Galaxy Nexus Build/ICL53F) AppleWebKit/535.7 (KHTML, like Gecko) CrMo/16.0.912.75 Mobile Safari/535.7
I’ve made a quick test on some websites, and they are all detecting Chrome as Android Browser.
For developers, remote debugging and profiling is one of the greatest additions. I’ve received lot of feedback a month ago when I’ve created iWebInspector, a remote debugger helper for iOS Simulator. Now you have the same tool for Android devices.
It allows us to use a full Remote Inspector –the same as in Chrome for Desktop- remotely using USB debugging. Unfortunately, this feature doesn’t work via the network as in BlackBerry Browser for PlayBook and Smartphones 7.0, Weinre or iWebInspector.
You need to use USB debugging mode, meaning that you as a web developer needs the Android SDK tools, the debugging drivers of your phone for Windows users and a couple of command-line tools to deal with. Maybe, it’s time for a iWebInspector for Chrome to help designers with this process :). I believe this process should be easier for web developer but it’s not a big deal when you understand how to do it.