The busy week for Google continues with the release of Chrome for iOS. Adding functions such as incognito mode and tab syncing across devices to the iPhones repertoire. The only real problem with this is that due to Apple’s restrictive policies against 3rd party apps the usually blazing fast browser is forced to move quite a bit slower than Safari. Not to mention that without jail breaking your iPhone you cannot set Chrome as your default browser. Is this a smart move for Google or a blunder?
Google’s hope is that despite the slower browsing speed, the added features will add enough to compel some diehard Safari users to rethink their alliance. Chrome operates with the same webkit as Safari much to Chrome fans dismay, but it IS different. The address bar is above the tabs much like on a desktop and they did implement the “Search or type URL” into the browser. Not only that , but when you open a new tab you get thumbnail versions of your most visited sites and there is also a few options along the bottom of the browser that allow you to move between your Most visited, Bookmarks, and Other devices. You can smoothly open up pages that you were looking at on your iPhone on your iPad or laptop that are also running chrome.
Incognito mode allows you to browse without sites logging into your history or setting up cookies. Any cookies you gain while in incognito mode are deleted as soon as you end your session. While Safari has a similar function the difficulty that comes with trying to activate it makes it too much of a hassle. You have to go into settings app selecting Safari and then turn it on and repeat the process to turn it off. Incognito mode is easy to reach, activate, and deactivate all from the browser by.
Chrome also has a leg up in its ability to save passwords as well as clear your browser data from within the app. Safari does not allow this by default and requires bending over backwards to achieve the goal. Many of these functions are located in the settings app which destroys convenience as well as discoverability.
This all sounds great, but there is a catch. While there are many a great feature and the browser is well put together, the fact is that Chrome cannot operate at optimum efficiency due to Apple’s restrictions. Safari has a massive leg up against the competition because it has access to the Nitro JavScript engine where outside apps do not. This means that Apple has intentionally given their own app a large speed advantage over anything else that App Developers might throw at the iPhone. Running a test to see just how much slower the browser is loading Ars Technica took around 3.1 seconds to load on Safari and 3.3 seconds on Chrome. This isn’t a huge difference, but with The New York Times the difference was 4.8 seconds and 7.3. The variance is there, but it might not be large enough to discourage users from wanting a better service.
Another disadvantage for Chrome is that you cannot set it as your default browser due to the way that Apple has their systems set. Even having the app on your home screen and selecting it doesn’t keep Safari from taking over your emails, iMessage, and apps. The only way for Chrome to be anything other than the “redheaded step-child” of the iPhone browser world is if Apple decides to allow a setting to change this. This has many users a little sad that they cannot use their desired browser, but that is part of owning an Apple product. Many know and all should that this is how Apple works before they make their purchase.
Adding in Chrome to the iOS app market is a play to grab some attention and direct it towards Google and their products. This will work for some as an increase in the browsers function will certainly grab the attention of a few users. Realistically the issue is that Apple has such a choke hold on 3rd party apps that many of the big innovations are happening with other providers. A closed source operation will ultimately fall behind the rest and start to stumble. Apple’s current following is huge, but an eye on their market share shows that they are on the downward slope. It will interesting to watch the future “plays” against each other in the death match between Google and Apple.