I refuse to upgrade my iPhone to iOS 6. My iPad, sure, but the pocket-sized device I carry with me everywhere is going to have to wait. My iPhone is jailbroken and I’m not going to give up the freedom and customizations. Using Chrome as my default browser is one of them.
Android users like to make fun of Apple devotees because so much of what you can do with a jailbroken iPhone is just normal on Google’s mobile OS. And they’re right, to an extent. You should be able to do simple things like rename apps, customize the look of the home screen and choose default applications for email and Web browsing, just as you’ve done on your desktop for decades. Apple’s user experience is brilliant, but man, some of the limitations are downright silly.
iOS doesn’t properly let you change your default Web browser, so the excitement was a bit muted when Google launched Chrome for the iPhone and iPad. However, if your device is jailbroken, running Chrome as your default browser is as easy as firing up the Cydia app depot, searching for “Browser Changer” and tapping the install button. From there, you can more or less bid farewell to Safari.
Pros: User Choice & Cross-Device Consistency
The difference between Chrome and Safari on iOS is subtle: Chrome is the same WebKit-based mobile browser as Safari, just wrapped in a different skin. The Web still loads and feels the same. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t advantages to switching.
The most compelling reason to use Chrome for iOS is if it’s your go-to-browser on the desktop. I fall into that camp. I almost never open Safari on my laptop. So why would I use it on my mobile devices?
Many people use multiple devices throughout the course the day. Apple is aware of this and has begun merging iOS and OS X for a more consistent experience across devices. Microsoft is doing the same with Windows 8 and Windows Phone. These are smart moves. Yet for Chrome users who own iOS devices, Web browsing remains fractured. Jailbreaking fixes that and enables you to sync browsing history and bookmarks from the desktop to your mobile devices. That syncing has been possible ever since Google launched Chrome for iOS, but it becomes useful only once you’ve made Chrome your default browser.
The difference is a wonder to behold. If you tap any bookmarks or links in an email, for example, they will launch in Chrome instead of Safari. Apps with an “Open in Safari” button suddenly offer to “Open in Chrome” as well. In the “Reading” folder on my home screen, I’ve always had a bookmark to Google Reader’s Web app, which is actually pretty good. Tapping that – or any such Web app – now opens Chrome. Meanwhile, if I bookmark URLs on my iPhone, they’re accessible from the desktop. No longer is my browsing experience fractured across devices.
Drawbacks: Reading & Sharing Are Better in Safari
I never knew how addicted to mobile Safari’s “Reader” button I was until I was forced to live without it. That Instapaper-style function, which strips out the visual junk and presents a clean, reader-friendly layout, turns out to be hugely valuable.
On the desktop, I’ve never noticed Chrome’s lack of this feature because I use a browser extension that mimics Safari’s reader-friendly mode. At this point, I never read anything on the Web longer than 200 words unless it’s stripped down to large, black text on a white background. But iOS browsers don’t support plug-ins and Google hasn’t thought to steal this feature, so I’m trapped in pinch-and-zoom hell. Help!
Other drawbacks to using Chrome as your default iPhone browser are small. If you like to bookmark Web apps to your device’s home screen, you’ll have to launch the URL in Safari to do it. Chrome supports regular bookmarks and sharing pages via email, Twitter, Facebook and (surprise!) Google+, but that’s about it.
Apple Should Stop Treating Us Like Babies
As I’ve previously argued in more thorough detail, it’s time Apple loosened some of these restrictions. In many cases, their strict guidelines are justified, because they lead to a more polished user experience that other platforms can’t rival. It keeps the App Store refreshingly short on spam and junk apps. Thanks, Apple. But seriously, let us choose our own default apps. While Chrome for iOS has a few minor drawbacks (which are largely subjective anyway), there’s nothing about using it as one’s default browser that somehow dilutes the overall experience of using iOS, browsing the Web and jumping from app to app. I know. I’ve been doing it for a few weeks now. For even longer, I’ve been using Sparrow as my default email client and not once have I looked back.
For me, the experience of checking my email and browsing the Web on my iPhone are more aesthetically pleasing and functional than they were before. That’s only true because of actions I took, not because of anything Apple did. There’s a place for restrictions and limitations, but when users start beating Apple at its own game – providing the most attractive, useful and enjoyable experience possible – something is screwed up.