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BW Businessworld

A Browser to Go

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It was sometime in mid 2009 that Google first came out with its Chrome strategy. Cloud computing wasn't the household name it is today and the idea of everything being on the web wasn't immediately understood. I may be in the minority here, but I think much more should have happened with Chrome than it has by now. Google could have owned the web in a far larger way today. One of the problems has been that the strategy has involved too many pieces with no integrated feel to them. Somehow, the glue that holds everything Google Chrome together, hasn't been sticky enough.

At the same time, there are some who believe that the Chrome strategy was before its time – and perhaps still is. For Chrome notebooks to succeed, they need to drop below a certain price point and internet connectivity has to be an affordable given – like the air you breathe. For the browser to move beyond being a secure and clean alternative to other browsers, there need to be many more applications.

But perhaps Google is finally moving forward with its strategy because it has just released the beta of its Chrome browser for Android. But don't jump to download it because it's only available to the privileged few happen to be cruising along on Ice Cream Sandwich or Android's latest 4.0 version. None ICS phones or tablets are in India yet, officially, so unless you want to take the unrecommended step of tampering with your Android phone and compromising its performance – wait.

For those willing to take the risk however, Chrome for Android has come as a bit of a treat because it has some much wanted features. For one, with a Chrome to Mobile, you can send URLs to the ICS-running mobile device. So if you were looking through something and had to move away but you hadn't quite finished, you can zap the site to your phone. Many more extensions will come up with additional features, over time.

Tabbed browsing, something peope who are regularly on the web cannot do without, is now slick in Chrome for Android. Tabs (unlimited) now look very neat because they auto fit and you can swipe through tabs on the screen. You can also flip thumbnails of tabs like you would do with cards. There's a lot of use of intuitive gestures and tilt the phone to move through tabs as well. Your desktop bookmarks are also accessible on the mobile device – and the other way around. The idea is of course to no longer have to think about whether you're on the desktop or mobile – the experience should seamlessly include all your devices.

The browser pre-fetches data when you're browsing on Wifi, ensuring that you don't get into sites that could be malicious. The pre-fetching is based on your browser history. There's also a link preview that you can see through a little zoom which shows you enlarged small text so you don't click on the wrong link.

Chrome for Android will eventually be the de-facto browser on Android devices, replacing the characterless featureless browser we currently have to work with.  It's meant to be speedy, simple and visually delightful. That means you need a powerhouse of a phone or tablet. Anything less would have been full of stutter. Flash won't work in this browser – the focus is on HTML5.

A browser is a critical part of a mobile device, but in many cases it hasn't been as nice as the device it works on. Users have added Opera Mini, Dolphin, and other browsers to get some of the features they don't get, including tabs and gesture browsing. It's unfortunate that Google's own browser has lagged behind its large Android footprint. Even with Chrome for Android, there are many kinks to be ironed out and there's no indication of when the browser will come out of beta. Whether it will become available to pre-4.0 Android devices is very unlikely. But this much is for certain: it's the way ahead for Google powered devices in the future.