Browser Wars: Chrome vs. Android

When I had lunch with Jason Grigsby (@grigs) a month or so ago, he mentioned an interesting point about Google’s competing browser problem, i.e. Chrome vs. Android. I’m glad he finally had time to post his thoughts because this is an interesting side plot to the more high profile company vs. company matchups.

We Need More Mobile First Browsers. Google Needs to Step Up. « Cloud Four

Jason points out the differences between Google IO 2010 and 2011. In 2010, the rendering speed of the Android 2.2 browser was on display, lapping the iPhone and iPad browsers. In 2011, rendering was again on display, this time with HTML5 elements, but only in Chrome.

The messaging was different this year too, with separate Android and Chrome keynotes. Rich (@rmanalan) reported that in one session a Googler side-stepped questions about Chrome ever coming to Android as the stock browser. Internally, there seems to be tension between the browsers.

I’ve generally been impressed with the Android browser. When I switched to Android last year, the native browser speed was one of the first things I noticed. At the time, I was comparing the Android 2.2 browser with Mobile Safari in iOS 3.1 on my original iPhone.

Since then, I’ve got an iPad (first with iOS 3.2, then iOS 4) and a Galaxy Tab (first with Android 3.0, now with 3.1), and I’ve bumped my EVO to Android 2.3. So, I’ve observed the mobile browsers evolve over at least two versions.

What a difference a year makes. I now have constant loading and freezing issues with the Android browser in Honeycomb 3.1, and the Android 2.3 browser seems to have only marginal rendering improvements over its predecessor. In contrast, Mobile Safari in iOS 4 was a big leap in rendering speed thanks to the Nitro engine. However, many people, myself included, pointed to the absence of Nitro for web apps added to the Home Screen as a sign that Apple was cutting off mobile web apps.

That turns out to be one of the features in iOS 5, foiling the conspiracy theory. In addition, iOS 5 Mobile Safari will have enhancements like native scrolling via CSS (overflow:scroll) and a handful of other mobile browser friendly features.

Mobile Safari has advanced significantly over the last year, but I don’t think the same can be said for the Android browser.

Chrome is a different story obviously, jumping to 20% market share and pushing out new features and speed enhancements every six weeks.

I would love to have Chrome on my portable Android devices. I say portable because interestingly, Chrome is the default browser on the Google TV which runs Android. Could there be browser convergence in Android 4? As a web-first company, does Google need to get its act together and make the Android browser a “mobile first browser”?

Find the comments.




  1. I’m guessing that the “Chrome” browser on the Google TV isn’t actually a true Chrome browser.  I’m willing to bet that it’s yet just another variation of android’s browser with a Chrome logo.  However, it would be interesting to see how much convergence there is with chrome and the android browser. I’m guessing that there is a lot of borrowed code from Chrome.

    I’m also guessing that porting Chrome to a device whose cpu/gpu is much more limited is not a trivial task. Not to mention that Chrome/V8’s code base is for the most part incompatible with Android’s SDK and probably NDK… sure makes it a more difficult problem.  Obviously for now, the Android team is much more focused on improving the overall experience of the OS and less on improving the browser performance and alignment with Chrome.  My guess though is that there is a team that’s focusing on that and that a Chrome “lite” will eventually drop on Android… even if it’s just a partial implementation.

    This all just proves how different the mobile ecosystem is from its desktop counterparts.

  2. All guessing aside, it’s a bit frustrating to see Apple manage to pull off similar feats with Safari though. They have the same concerns.

  3. well the question is which browser are you gonna choose, let us leave this competition and face the real question, after all we are the only people who are gonna use it anyways!!

  4. Sure, but this post is more than six months old, and Chrome for Android recently went into beta. Plus, it’s only supported for ICS, so lucky you 🙂 I run a Nexus S, and we *still* haven’t got ICS yet.

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