Why Google Chrome on iOS stands a chance

The very first version of Cleartrip Mobile was launched about two years ago, exactly one week after I joined Cleartrip. Since then, I’ve had the amazing opportunity to build Cleartrip Mobile up from a Minimum Viable Product (MVP) into the most comprehensive mobile travel product available in today’s market.

Back then, the mobile web was a completely new medium for me and the past two years have been a great learning experience. A large part of my job involves understanding what mobile browsers are capable of and how we can exploit them to build better experiences for our customers. I live and breathe mobile browsers — the first thing I do when I get hold of someone else’s phone is to check how Cleartrip Mobile renders on it. Apart from the cheap thrills, it’s a great opportunity to kick the tires on the product and continuously improve it. So, when Google launched the Chrome browser for iOS, the first thing I did was to check out Cleartrip Mobile and everything worked pretty damn well.

Ever since Google launched Chrome for iOS, the web’s echo chamber has weighed in with myriad opinions. Chrome’s description in the App Store states:

Browse fast with Chrome, now available on your iPhone, iPod touch and iPad.

The irony of it all is best stated by Robert Accettura:

The most touted feature isn’t actually a feature. It’s technically not even there

Apple’s policy doesn’t allow Chrome to bring it’s home grown V8 engine to the iOS platform which means Chrome need’s to rely on the UIWebView to render it’s pages. It gets worse – the UIWebView lacks the Nitro Engine that was introduced in Safari 4, last year. It is noted that UIWebViews are almost 3x slower on JS performance as compared to Safari on iOS.

So this is where Chrome iOS stands right now:

  • 3 times slower than Mobile Safari on JavaScript performance
  • Users cannot make it their default browser (can’t see any traces of that iOS6 either)
  • Product looks really promising – it’s light on the user-experience, it’s got all the right hooks.

But will that be enough? Probably not.

But here’s five reasons why the underdog Chrome browser stands a good chance of winning:

  1. The mobile browser is redundant. Being able to change your default browser would’ve certainly been in Chrome’s favour but does Chrome even need to worry about that? Tons of mobile web traffic is generated by Twitter and Facebook — which means that it is rendered within the respective webviews of those apps. When was the last time you launched a browser to read an article that someone shared on your timeline. So in a sense, UIWebviews, Chrome’s great weakness may just work in their favour.
  2. Chrome has the upper hand in search. It’s safe to assume that the starting point on a mobile browser is search. Huge advantage for Chrome with predictive search available straight from the address bar.
  3. Slow? Who cares? Being slower than Safari won’t matter to most users. Noticeable differences will only be perceptible in more intensive web applications. Chrome iOS makes up for this shortcoming with loads of behind the scenes magic to make loading pages much faster than Safari.
  4. Chrome is already huge. Chrome is growing, and it’s growing fast. Google recently claimed that Chrome has replaced Internet Explorer as the world’s number one browser. Number one or not, Chrome has traction and lots of it — taking the top spot on the iOS App Store within hours of launch is proof of that.
  5. Chrome will prove to be more developer friendly. Safari is a great browser and a boon to web developers. But Apple needs to stretch a little more to make lives easier for developers. Chrome has a great web developer community and that’s going to help the mobile web tremendously. I can see my life getting much easier in the near future.

If Apple doesn’t get social, they’re equally bad when it comes to the web — Google does the web for a living. One can clearly see how they’ve pushed the envelope to build a great browser.

This is Safari’s first real competitor on the iOS platform and this competition is going to benefit the mobile web as a whole. We’re looking forward to see how things play out.

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