Google has released Chrome for Android Beta, adeptly tailoring its desktop browser to the mobile platform with a number of neat touches. The downside? It's Ice Cream Sandwich only.
Overnight Google announced
the new Chrome for Android Beta, available now
on Android Market, bringing its flagship desktop browser to Android smartphones and tablets for the first time as an optional alternative to the OS's stock Browser app.
We spoke with Google today and asked why it had taken so long for the company to bring the two together. Brian Rakowski, VP of Chrome Product Management, told us: "This is something we really wanted to get right. We wanted to build a really, really solid product that we could be proud of and be happy with in our most key dimensions: predictably speed, and also just making a really simple user experience that makes sense on mobile."
Google is eager to promote Chrome for Android's speed, simplicity and seamlessness via a number of subtle innovations designed to make for an intuitive and convenient mobile experience. The browser, which has been in the works for over a year, features accelerated page loading, "unlimited" browser tabs that can be easily swiped between, a Link Preview feature that zooms in on links to make it easier to tap what you want on smaller screens, plus a number of privacy options. Perhaps best of all, signing into Chrome for Android syncs information with your desktop Chrome, including bookmarks sync, open tabs viewing (tabs left open on your PC will be available on your Android device) and suggested site autocompletions for commonly visited pages.
In short, the Beta offers what some Android fans have long been hoping for. However, the catch for the majority of users will prove significant: Chrome for Android Beta is currently Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich only, and Google has no plans to bring the browser to previous versions. As Google's own version distribution chart
clearly points out -- a resource designed to help developers "decide how to prioritize the development of ... application features for the devices currently in the hands of users" -- that makes Chrome for Android available to just one per cent of current Android users, a limitation which is sure to disappoint many.
According to Srikanth Rajagopalan, Product Manager for Chrome for Android, the decision to only support ICS (and future) versions of Android is strictly tied to underlying system and hardware acceleration capabilities not available in previous versions of the operating system: "So we will at this point not be considering older versions... Given the capabilities we wanted in [Chrome for Android], ICS is the baseline."
As for whether Chrome for Android will eventually replace the stock Android Browser or be extended with Web Store apps and add-ons like its desktop counterpart, Google is for the moment keeping mum (with a watchful eye on the progress of its newest Beta). Rakowski says: "We're just focused on building the best possible product we can right now. It's still early and we'd love to get more user feedback and see where we can add more features, where we can improve the product in terms of speed, and then we'll take the next step, which is trying to figure out how to make it more broadly available."