Chrome for Android and the Prospect of Chrome for iOS

Announced today, M.G. Siegler has an early overview of the Chrome beta for Android. In short, although limited to Ice Cream Sandwich (and its associatively small install base), it's a thoroughly compelling mobile browser. M.G. writes:

Google gave me an early look at the browser and I’ve been using it for the past few days. There are a number of things that are noticeably better than the browser I consider to gold standard of mobile web browsing: mobile Safari for iOS. And there are a few things it still does worse. But I have no doubt that like the original version of Chrome, Chrome for Android is going to push all browsers forward.

Following the launch, speculation has immediately turned to the potential for an iOS implementation of the nascent mobile browser. Although the performance of Mobile Safari is phenomenal, its design is fairly conservative and Chrome for Android's release has certainly highlighted the swelling desire for a visually differing take on the mobile browser.

Chrome for Android boasts some novel aesthetic choices, and its deep integration with desktop Chrome sounds like a genuine pleasure to deal with. As such, the immediately expressed desire for iOS implementation is, if nothing else, a ringing endorsement of what Google has done here, and serves as a large reminder for why I find it virtually impossible to leave Chrome in favor of any other browser on the desktop.

Although Chrome may never find a true port to iOS thanks to Apple's rules, Mobile Safari and Chrome are ultimately built upon the same WebKit foundation. Accordingly, although Chrome's quick JavaScript engine might not make it, Chrome could well exist with some compromises on iOS. The question is whether such losses would be worth it for Google.

Yes, Chrome drives users toward Google Search but, don't forget, Google is also the default search provider in Mobile Safari already. While that is an arguably tenuous alliance, Google has shown its willingness to pay to sustain its default search status elsewhere.

Even if Chrome does come to iOS, Google has shown a repeated tendency toward underwhelming iOS products, as is thoroughly evidenced by Gmail for iOS. While Microsoft builds responsive and attractive apps, Google has demonstrated a strong propensity for uninspired and half-baked apps that do little for the brand. If Google was forced into a stripped down version of the browser, due to prior conditioning, I can only imagine what horrors such a browser might hold.

Syncing tabs with Chrome and having a novel tab display is certainly an attractive prospect, but I can't say I feel as optimistic about its potential as others. The app store is filled with skinned versions of Safari, and while Google might pull off a particularly attractive version, it will never quite rival the deep integration of Mobile Safari for the average iOS user. Without significant changes to iOS or Chrome, it's likely the value of Chrome for iOS would be largely stifled from the outset.

Of course, I'd love to be proven wrong.

Nevertheless, with regard to the Android version, it's brilliant to see a different and positive take on the mobile browser. Chrome for Android, minor issues aside, seems to be a massive step in the right direction and, as I've said before, competition and innovation are certainly good things.