Google is finally bringing Chrome to the Android platform. A beta release of the increasingly popular Web browser was published this morning in the Android Market and is available to users who are running Android 4. The port includes Chrome’s advanced HTML rendering engine and many of the browser’s popular features.
The Chrome beta is designed to run on both phones and tablets. The tablet version of the user interface is nearly a perfect match of Chrome on the desktop, including the distinctive slanted tab design. The phone version has a more compressed interface, suitable for smaller screens, and includes the standard Chrome features such as the Omnibar and application shortcut pane.
The gap between Chrome and the native Android Web browser has long been a source of confusion for users and pundits. Although both browsers are based on WebKit and use some of the same underlying components, such as the Skia vector graphics framework, they are separate implementations and originally had little else in common.
As we have pointed out in our reviews of the Android operating system, the platform’s default browser tends to have difficulty handling the most intensive application-like Web experiences. Google announced last year that it would try to close the gap between the Android browser and Chrome, with the aim of eventually converging them around a shared code base. The release of Chrome on Android appears to be the fruit of that labor.
In a video posted this morning on the official Chromium blog, Google’s engineers offered some technical insight into the port and what it has to offer on Android. They said that the new software has the same multiprocess architecture that Chrome uses on the desktop. It also offers support for modern Web features such as WebSockets, IndexedDB, and Web Workers.
Other features that will appeal to Web developers include hardware-accelerated rendering for the HTML5 Canvas element and a built-in remote debugging tool that works over USB. The latter will allow developers to attach the WebKit Inspector in a desktop version of Chrome to an instance of Chrome running on a device.
The Chrome port, which can be downloaded from the Android Market on Android 4 devices, currently installs side-by-side with the default Android browser. Users can make it the default handler for URLs, but it doesn’t replace the standard browser.
That also means that the advanced features in the HTML rendering engine won’t be available to third-party applications that integrate an embedded WebView control. (It’s possible that Chrome will be fully integrated in future versions of the Android operating system.)
The availability of Chrome for Android is a big step forward for Web browsing on mobile devices powered by Google’s operating system. It should deliver a significantly better user experience on the Web and make Android a better environment for running next-generation mobile Web applications.