Google Chrome for iPad and iPhone

The iPad and iPhone Web browser market has slowly matured over the last several months, and users now have a number of browsers to choose from other than the standard Safari. We take a look at how Chrome performs on the iPad iPhone and decide whether or not it’s an ideal option as your default browser.

Google Chrome has become the de-facto browser of choice for the majority of PC users, with its streamlined, sleek and sexy design and unparalleled responsiveness and speed providing a smooth and efficient browsing experience. However, it was not until recently that Chrome was officially released on the iPad and iPhone, two of the world’s biggest mobile platforms, so expectations are high for this version of Chrome to provide the performance and usability gains of the PC version. We test drove the latest version of Google Chrome on an iPhone 4s and an iPad 4, and have compiled a list of good and bad features of Chrome for both devices, followed by a final verdict. Enjoy.

The Good

Integration with Google Account and Services

Probably the biggest consumer drawcard to switching to Chrome on your Apple device is its support for cross-playform syncing and connectivity with your Google account, so you can automatically take your Gmail, Google+, and your Google Account along with all your personalized information with you anywhere you go and access your personalized Chrome settings from any device. Google will store certain information, such as bookmarks, history and other settings, on Google’s servers in association with your Google Account, so your bookmarks, passwords and history from your PC or other devices will automatically be synced into your iPad or iPhone. This is a huge positive if you have (like me) an extensive list of bookmarks accumulated in Chrome on your PC over years of browsing and researching.

Searches in the address bar

One feature I love about Chrome (which, admittedly, can be configured on other browsers but feels so much better on Chrome) is the ability to just type Google searches in the address bar without having to navigate to Google first. It might not sound like much, but can be a genuine time-saver over a long period. Combined with the super-smoothness and responsiveness of Chrome, it makes conducting Google searches feel very fluid and easy indeed.

Virtual keyboard usability additions

Chrome for iPad and iPhone also has a number of additional features designed to increase usability given the physical restrictions of mobile devices. One is these is a custom keyboard that adds extra characters when searching or typing in a URL to the top of the virtual keyboard. A row featuring commonly used characters in Web addresses such as the colon, period, dash, forward slash and .com keys sits above the traditional QWERTY keyboard layout, a much welcomed addition.

Integrated speech-to-text

Chrome also features integrated speech-to-text, activated by tapping the new dedicated microphone button located on the right of the browser. Pressing the microphone button will put the iPad into listening mode, allowing you to talk out your searches or commands, and the voice recognition software is fairly fast and accurate.

Unlimited tabbed browsing

Let’s be honest; this is probably the biggest reason many people will switch to Chrome on their Apple device. If you’re anything like me, you have a habit of opening about 20 tabs for each browsing session, switching back and forth between tabs like a monkey on mescaline. Chrome, of course, lets you do just this, with a slight caveat however – performance takes a noticeable hit with more than about 5 tabs open. We’ll get into this further in the next section, but for now know at least that Chrome for iPad/iPhone does indeed grant you the all-too-sexy ability to load up tabs and swipe smoothly back and forth between them.

Incognito Browsing

Incognito browsing, a feature that lets you surf the Web without leaving behind any cookies, browsing history or any other tracking data, is a much-used feature on the PC version of Chrome and it’s included here. We’re not suggesting any particular uses for this feature, as they should be self-evident *cough cough*.

Most Visited Websites

Loading up a new tab automatically loads up thumbnail versions of your most visited websites. It’s a convenient, time-saving ‘speed dial’ that lets you quickly jump to your most-visited websites as soon as you load the browser.

Look and Feel

Finally, Google Chrome just has an aesthetically pleasing style to it that makes it more fun to surf the Web. It’s a combination of the sleek tabs, modern and sharp lines, and especially the way tabs slide from one to the other as you are changing that makes it visually fun and exciting to use, a huge benefit from our perspective.

The Bad

Performance Problems with Lots of Tabs

On to the bad aspects of Chrome on iPad and iPhone, and unfortunately there are a few. While Chrome lets you open an unlimited number of tabs on the iPad, compared to only nine on Safari, it gets virtually unusable once you get to about ten tabs if the sites are graphic or Javascript intensive. Part of the reason for this is the way that Chrome for Apple uses Javascript.

As John Herrman explains in his excellent blog post, the standard Apple browser Safari employs a Javascript engine called Nitro, which uses a technology called “just-in-time” compilation to execute Javascript more quickly. This technology helps to make Safari faster than it otherwise would be on a mobile device – and alternative browsers like Chrome don’t employ this engine – nor their own nature engine – but rather a slightly inferior variant of an older, pre-Nitro version, called UIWebView. This is why Chrome’s performance on the iPad and iPhone doesn’t quite match up to the performance levels you’d see on the PC platform. Part of the reason that everyone loves Chrome on the PC is that it is incredibly fast, due to the way it allocates massive amounts of RAM (some say too much) to each open tab.

This allows Chrome to set up little caches in RAM for each dynamic event, which in turn means they are presented smoothly and rapidly to the end user. Chrome on the iPad and iPhone can’t offer this sleekness and speed, which detracts from its appeal somewhat. Having said that however, it’s not unacceptably slow – the speed hit only really occurs when you have multiple tabs loaded with resource-hungry websites.

Pinch to zoom is not perfect

While Chrome for the most part is glitch-free and smooth, there are instances we’ve noticed where the pitch to zoom feature lags a bit. It doesn’t happen that frequently, but enough for you to notice. A minor complaint.

Can’t set it as your true default browser

Most people would agree that the most annoying part about Chrome is that you can’t set it as your default browser, and links from emails, Twitter posts and the like still open in Safari. You can’t really overcome this drawback unless you jailbreak your device, an option that many won’t consider, but never fear – there IS a slight workaround, suggested by a guy called Jon Abram, that allows you to revert quickly to Chrome instead of going to Safari when you open URL’s from external places like Mail, Twitter or the like.

The trick basically involves setting up a bookmark in Safari that immediately redirects you to the same page in the Chrome browser. So when you click on a link in Twitter for example, it will take you to Safari, and you just press the bookmark you configured ‘Open in Chrome’ and it will open the same page in Chrome. Yes, it’s still not as good as being able to set Chrome as the default browser directly, but it’s as good as you’re going to get unless you jailbreak your Apple device.

To create the necessary bookmark in Safari that will take to you Chrome, follow the below steps:

1. Copy the following code:
javascript:location.href=”googlechrome”+location.href.substring(4);
2. Make a bookmark of this page.
3. Open your Safari bookmarks, click “Edit”, and edit the new bookmark.
4. Rename it to “Open in Chrome” or similar.
5. Delete the URL that’s there and paste in the above code.
6. Then select the Done button, followed by the Done button again.

Conclusion

Overall, then, is it worth going with Chrome over Safari for your iPad or iPhone browsing experience? For us it is, as we love our instant search address bar and integration with Google accounts, but for others it might not be. At the end of the day, Chrome for the Apple devices really is intended primarily for those who already use Chrome on their other devices.

If you don’t use Chrome on any of your other devices, such as your PC, and aren’t going to be taking advantage of the Google Account integration and importing of bookmarks and passwords, it might not be worth taking the step to Chrome on your Apple device. Safari is still a very serviceable and high-performing browser on those platforms, and there’s also Atomic, which is a good alternative option despite being a paid browser, as it offers more features than Safari such as tabbed browsing and full-screen browsing.


photo credit: Matt Biddulph via photopin cc

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