Google Chrome for iPad and iPhone
It’s been a long wait for a valid alternative to Safari on the iPad and iPhone, but one finally arrived this week, and it’s a big one: Google Chrome. Now, before you get too excited, Google hasn’t been able to bring the full Chrome experience to iOS, for reasons we’ll go into later, but much of what has made Chrome so popular on the desktop is in place. Google’s approach is to create a unified experience across all devices, from your PC right down to your iPhone.
The iPad version of the app, as shown in the screenshot at the top of this post, looks very similar to the desktop Chrome. Tabs look the same, with the navigation buttons and the address bar beneath, but in the top-right corner the usual settings spanner is replaced by a menu button, and Google has put the voice search icon in the address bar for easy access. To open a new tab just tap the stub as normal, and it will give you the familiar grid of recently visited sites
On the iPhone it’s a little more cramped, preferring Safari’s approach of a tabs icon in the top corner that tells you how many you have open. Unlike Safari’s sideways scrolling row of open tabs, tapping Chrome’s icon gives you a more stylish (although arguably less clear) stacked pile of tabs, which you can tap to open or swipe sideways to close.
Both versions of the app include Incognito mode, for those times when you don’t want to leave tracks on the device for others to see, and loading desktop versions of mobile sites is a matter of a couple of taps. Plus, there’s a privacy option to always preload pages or only when connected via Wi-Fi.
But the appeal of Chrome on the iPhone and iPad is arguably less about the design and more about the ecosystem, and here’s where things get really useful. First, the app lets you sync with your Chrome account – not just across iOS devices but with laptops and PCs too. So the first time you log in, not only do you get your full set of bookmarks, but also your search and address history, saved passwords, and even open tabs.
Yes, you can finally leave the office with five tabs open, carry on with those same tabs on your iPad on the train, then switch on your PC at home and do the same. The sites appear in list form rather than as automatically opened tabs, and it requires push notifications to be enabled, but once it’s set up it works brilliantly. It’s as close as a browser can come to having a killer feature.
Then there’s the issue of interaction with other apps: Apple won’t let you set Chrome as the default browser, which means links in other apps (including Google’s own) will still open in Safari.
Another important aspect for the next generation of mobile browsers will be “finger gestures”. If user could handle the basic browser functions with fast finger gestures, the browsing experience would be much smoother. There are some cool new gestures within the iPad like the Photo App gestures. I wish for Apple to define some standard guidelines for advanced gestures by adopting similar mouse gestures which are already known from plugins for firefox & chrome.
The greatest thing about Google Chrome for iPad would be the combination of the two platforms. On the one hand the shiny iPad Hardware with the well-engineered OS and zillions of well-designed native Apps and on the other hand the Chrome Browser with the best-of ‘chrome OS’ features (WebApp Store, Google Apps, Extensions, …). Wouldn’t that be a promising future, where both companies and platforms could co-exists side by side?