Google delighted many users of its Chrome Web browser today by announcing that a version for Apple's iPad and iPhone will be in the iTunes App Store later today. In a demo at Google I/O in San Francisco, the company showed off a mobile Chrome that shares many similarities with its desktop counterpart.
Many of the expected features are included, such as tabbed browsing, incognito mode and in-page search, to name a few. The real magic lies in the browser's ability to sync across devices, something that Google's Director of Product Management Brian Rakowski demoed in detail. Recognizing that many users browse the Web from a variety of devices, Google allows them to sync tabs, history and login credentials across tablets, smartphones and desktops. The company also announced Google Drive for iOS, which is expected to arrive in the App Store later today.
There are plenty of other third-party browsers available for iOS, but this marks the first time a major desktop browser has landed on Apple's mobile operating system. Earlier this month, Mozilla demoed an early prototype of an iOS browser called Junior, but it's nowhere near going live in the App Store. If Microsoft is thinking about making a mobile version of Internet Explorer, it's not something anybody's talking about, let alone clamoring for. Chrome, on the other hand, has risen quickly to become one of the most popular Web browsers on the market, and users have been begging for an iOS version for some time.
Will Apple Let Chrome Users Have/Eat Their Cake?
While Chrome for iOS is exciting and long overdue for Chrome users who own iPhones and iPads, the excitement is muted somewhat by the fact that Apple won't allow third-party iOS browsers to be designated as the default. Users can tap open Chrome on an iPad all they want, but any links they tap in an email or another third-party app will open in Safari. This fractures the Web browsing experience across browsers whether users like it or not.
Some observers, including John Gruber, predict that Chrome's arrival on iOS will force Apple to rethink this limitation. We certainly hope so. That may well end up happening sooner now, if only because Chrome is a widely used product with a large user base (it's hard to imagine users of, say, Dolphin storming Cupertino with pitchforks in hand). Chrome has 310 million active users, as Google proudly touted earlier today.
Not too long ago, Apple wouldn't allow third-party Web browsers on iOS at all. Like other restrictions, that one was slowly relaxed over time. Now alternative browsers are permitted, but they're all based on the same WebKit rendering engine as Safari. The differences lie in the UI design and user experience, areas in which Safari could be more mind-blowing, to say the least.
In many cases, Apple has legitimate user experience or security reasons for keeping a tight lid on things in iOS. When it comes to using alternative Web browsers, though, the company is running out of excuses.