Chrome for Android – The Turning Point For Android Tablets

Posted on 08 February 2012 by

Chrome for Android has just been launched.

Many of you know I run three sites. Carrypad, the tablet-focused site. Ultrabooknews, the thin-and-light laptop site and this one, UMPCPortal.  At UMPCPortal we’ve been focused on productive mobility since 2006 (almost exactly) and as you will probably know, the last few years have been hard on us. Trying to get productivity into a two-handed mobile experience has been completely ignored by mainstream manufacturers. We’ve all tried tablets of course and all been disappointed at the lack or processing power, lightweight apps and of course, the full web experience which requires a full web browser. Mozilla tried with Firefox for Android but didn’t really get there yet. Most people settled on Dolphin HD as the best of the bunch but it wasn’t anywhere near the experience needed for web-based productivity and creation.

Intel offered us some hope with Meego, an optimised Linux-based OS that included a Chromium browser…

MeeGo offers me some hope. A full internet experience and an app store but it’s something needs to mature until at least late 2011 and in fact for it to function fast enough to be productive it will need a high-end dual-core ARM or Intel Moorestown platform that will not be able to provide all-day battery life in a smartphone form-factor. [ref June 2010]

… but we all know what happened there.

And then along came the best smartbook yet. The Asus Transformer Prime has fantastic looking hardware, 18hr battery life (with leyboard dock) and some great sensor, touch and app experiences. The problem was that it also had issues when addressing productive and creative work. The apps are still thin and the browser still terrible.

But there was nothing else to choose from. Until today that is.

Chrome for Android has been launched. It’s in the Android Market for anyone with an Android Ice Cream Sandwich device and it’s fully functional. Well, it seems to be. This Beta software may have a few bugs but it represents the best step yet towards a productive handheld ‘UMPC’ solution. There will still be problems with low-quality, unstable and badly supported native apps,  but Chrome on Android is going to develop fast, encourage a new market for Android tablets and  enable a whole new world of desktop-quality browsing.

There are early issues. Mouseover doesn’t seem to be working well and there could be performance issues related to the (relative to laptops) lack of CPU, memory and general platform speed but these are likely to be fixed very quickly given the effort Google is putting into its browser.

Unfortunately for me, I don’t have an ICS tablet right now. I will be looking for ‘ROM’ upgrade for the Acer A500 I have here as it supports USB host (for keyboards/mice etc) and would work well as a smart, Chrome-based desktop device but that could take a few days before I get round to it. Maybe I’ll be looking for an ASUS Transformer Prime though. Given its smartbook credentials and Chrome for Android it now has the potential to span Carrypad, UMPCPortal and Ultrabooknews!

A quick note on the Android 4.0 requirement. I think it’s a brave bu neccesary move. It means that only ‘Google Android’ gets the best browser and encoruages a big shift to ICS over 2012. it might be annoying for some now but it makes absolute sense to encourage a move away from 2.x and 3.x variants and get everyone moving with ICS. When that happens, ISVs will be far more likely to invest in high-quality tablet application development and that’s where the turning point comes. Following the turning point, the niche designs will jump in too. There’s every chance that we’ll start to see UMPCs again…running Android. I know you’ll be concerned with security, apps, interfaces and such but I feel sure we’ll see those issues solved. The market for alternative designs is going to grow quickly so watch out for a fresh batch of ultra mobile PC news!  It also makes Apple think hard again about a smartbook although my guess is that they have been working on one for a long time already.

Don’t forget that this app is very likely to be in development for X86 devices too. Intel will be putting massive effort into getting this optimised for Medfield-based devices. Comparing Sunspider tests, hopefuly at MWC later this month, will be fun!

I’m interested to hear your thoughts below. I’m sure we’ll have a good discussion.

Updates:

Noted – There’s no Flash support. I’m not sure too many are going to have a problem with this and it sends an important message out to web developers – Stay clear of Flash!

There seems to be a problem with agent-id. I’m reading that Chrome for Android is identifying itself as a mobile browser.

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  • Good thoughts: one more to share. Once this browser gains widespread use, it could further boost Chrome usage on the desktop. The ability to “see” any open web page on any other device you have Chrome running on (and you’re signed in, of course) will help bring the web to a more seamless experience between desktop and mobile. Yup, we’ve seen this type of technology before, but with Android’s backing, I think more people will see and use this function for the very first time.

  • turn_self_off

    I think Acer have announced ICS for the A500. But when that will happpen i am unsure about.

    • There are some rumors from Asia but nothing that anyone feels too confident in at the moment!

  • chromebooks with touchpad only.
    No Touchscreen , No QWERTY keyboard on Chromebook.

    Exernal USB QWERTY keyboard. Yes
    Touchpad – Yes

    https://docs.google.com/a/7keypad.com/document/pub?id=1eyIMpZLFS1gZureeezDjYXh-c-O0IlYW4BCUvlXk8a0

  • Do you know if V8 implementation is complete? It seems to be, but I’m still not sure that every AJAX application can run on Chrome for Android.

    If it is the case… they have killed Chromebooks and ChromeOS. There is no point in having a limited Chromebook if you can have all of its benefits and Android apps.

  • John

    Sigh… this site has completely lost touch with reality :( Why on earth would a slow and buggy version of a desktop browser be a turning point as far as mobile computing goes? Why do you even need a browser for a “web-based productivity and creation” to begin with ?

    Chippy, maybe you should go ask the big corporations that adopt mobile platforms (especially iOS) in a big way to explain what “mobile productivity” is after all. What certainly is not, is a big desktop squeezed in a small shell… That’s the mistake of the whole umpc paradigm.

    You said it yourself – this site is about productive mobility – and yet the last few years have been hard on you. Isn’t this an oxymoron – the last few years have been the years of the “productive mobility” revolution! Don’t you think there is something wrong with this picture?

    • turn_self_off

      Best guess, it is part of Chippy’s full internet experience axe he keeps grinding.

      As for the corporations that are adopting ipads and such, so far it seems to be limited to the execs that do more reading than writing. That is, they are employing them as pdf/email readers. And this seems to happen because of a “me wants” mentality among the execs and the IT department find themselves having to either oblige or look for a new job. And in this market, not sure the latter is a good option to pursue…

      • Exactly. Chippy’s FIE concept is still valid, and quite simple: FIE is the capability of doing whatever you do with a desktop browser. Using online office packages, editing pictures and vectors, using every piece of online applications as they are intended to be used… instead of being limited to “mobile” (castrated) versions of web applications. Tablets nowadays have enough resolution and computing power for rendering properly web applications, therefore the bottleneck is the browser.

        A lot of companies use all kind of web applications, from Google docs, Office 365 or Zoho to CRM, ERP, etc. But the employees are quite restricted to desktop OS since all of such applications need complete browsers in order to obtain full experiences and results. If an employee or a professional could use full web applications with a device which weight less than 500 grams and have an autonomy of at least 10 hours, their use in mobility would be as productive as we want to be. Instead of it, most of the “professional” use of appliances such as iPad is, as you said, email and PDF reading. Hooray

      • Exactly. Chippy’s FIE concept is still valid, and quite simple: FIE is the capability of doing whatever you do with a desktop browser. Using online office packages, editing pictures and vectors, using every piece of online applications as they are intended to be used… instead of being limited to “mobile” (castrated) versions of web applications. Tablets nowadays have enough resolution and computing power for rendering properly web applications, therefore the bottleneck is the browser.

        A lot of companies use all kind of web applications, from Google docs, Office 365 or Zoho to CRM, ERP, etc. But the employees are quite restricted to desktop OS since all of such applications need complete browsers in order to obtain full experiences and results. If an employee or a professional could use full web applications with a device which weight less than 500 grams and have an autonomy of at least 10 hours, their use in mobility would be as productive as we want to be. Instead of it, most of the “professional” use of appliances such as iPad is, as you said, email and PDF reading. Hooray

        • John

          The solution to the problem that Juan mentions, namely how to render properly web apps on a mobile browser, has less to do with the browser and more to do with the web apps themselves: what’s the point of adopting the desktop browser when the GUI of Office 365 is designed for cursors and not for touch?

          If MS wants Office 365 to run on tablets they better redesign their webapps. Then you will see that a modern mobile browser is perfectly adequate to do the job. In the meantime, there is the “local” thin client model: see for example how you can access and edit sharepoint files on an iPad using shareplus.

          Mobile productivity (that extends way beyond a text editor) is coming on mobile platforms in a big big way. Nobody waits for some obscure asian company to adopt the new Intel architecture that would allow them to make their laptops a little bit lighter or last a little bit longer. This is a solved problem – all the focus now is on software and the development of mobile platforms. Who cares if chrome is ported to Android? This is an answer to the wrong question.

          Don’t forget: it is ultra mobility we are talking here. If you have the luxury of sitting on a desk, then you have the luxury of using a physical keyboard; take a macbook air (or a windows alternative) to do the job. Use the internet to sync and collaborate. The problem is solved – no need to reinvent the wheel …

  • Besides Firefox & Dolphin HD, I would also suggest trying Skyfire, both Blogger & WordPress web interfaces working

  • animatio

    tcha … the main thing is …. the web is not made for finger artistic. fiddling with websites needs a mouse or a stylus, especially productive working with web content.

    • Yu

      True. But when you need, for whatever reason, access to a web based app on the go and there is no touchscreen version available… Better to know, that you can do it, even if it feels cramped, than to fear, that you will fail.

      God… What did I curse, when I was trying to use my local public transport route planner on my old WM6.1 phone… That’s better with even the Android stock browser though; Here the problem is more about connectivity and server speed (requesting a route is slow like hell). Has improved at lot since there is an inofficial (!) Android app for that.

      I can however imagine, that in many other cases web apps with lack of dedicated mobile-browser-support will be a major annoyance. But with a “desktop”-browser on the phone/tablet, at least you CAN get the information you need. Even if you curse a hundred times in the process.

  • fixup

    The Opera Mobile for Android 11.5 already gives me full web experience.

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