After almost a year of anticipation and rumors, Google on Tuesday finally launched a mobile version of its increasingly popular Chrome web browser, though right now, it’s a beta version and only available for smartphones and tablets running Google’s Android Ice Cream Sandwich mobile operating system (4.0 or higher).
But that’s just the beginning of what the Google Chrome team wants to do. In fact, a Google spokesperson confirmed to TPM that the company is indeed aiming to expand Chrome to other mobile operating systems, in seeming defiance of the current mobile industry’s “walled garden” approach.
“We would like to bring the same speedy, simple and seamless Chrome web browsing experience to other mobile platforms,” a Google spokesperson told TPM, “But have nothing to announce at this time.”
Still, even without a specific announcement, that’s a strikingly bold claim, given the notorious gatekeeper mentality taken by some mobile manufacturers — namely Apple — toward what applications they allow on their operating systems.
As Apple’s guidelines for mobile apps developers state, Apple won’t approve an app that “duplicates existing functionality,” found on iOS devices. Apple iPhones and iPads ship with a mobile version of Safari, Apple’s desktop browser.
Given the intensifying competition between Apple and Google in the mobile space, it’s highly unlikely (read: cold day in hell) that Apple would ever allow Google’s Chrome browser on iOS devices.
But it’s not just Apple that exhibits such a protectionist mentality when it comes to mobile browsers. According to Mozilla, the company behind the Firefox browser; “Due to platform or distribution restrictions, Mozilla is unable to bring the full Firefox browser to Blackberry, Symbian and iOS (iPhone, iPod Touch).”
Still, Opera Mini, a mobile version of the web browser developed by Norwegian company Opera, is available on all of those platforms and more, demonstrating that it is possible for a browser to slip through the cracks and onto multiple competing mobile devices.
Opera Mini has done well as a result too, commanding the second biggest slice of market share when it comes to mobile browsers currently, with 20 percent, compared to Apple’s Safari for iOS at 55 percent, according to tracking firm Net Applications.
Whether platform operators will be as accommodating of Google’s mobile ambitions remains to be seen.
Still, Google has a number of issues to tackle on its own native Android mobile operating system first.
Chrome for Android is currently available in 12 countries, including the U.S., Canada, Brazil, the UK, Spain, Japan and Australia, among others.
“Our plan is to iterate rapidly and expand this to all countries where Android 4.0 devices are available,” Google’s spokesperson told TPM.
But with the browser restricted, at least for the time being, to Android Ice Cream Sandwich devices, it’s only available on about 2.5 million devices, or just 1 percent of the total estimated 250 million Android devices currently in use around the globe. That’s because older, legacy versions of Android (2.3 Gingerbread and 2.2 Froyo) still account for the majority of Android devices out there, with Gingerbread continuing to gain market share.
Still, Google seemed proud to show off its hard work, with a spokesperson telling TPM that the Chrome for Android Beta has been in development for “more than a year.”
“We’re really excited about the potential to push the boundaries of what is possible on the mobile web,” the spokesperson said, “Since the initial launch of Chrome [in 2008], we’ve been focused on spurring innovation on the web and creating a more modern browser. The natural evolution is to bring this experience to the mobile web.”
And so far, Chrome for Android beta is an unqualified success. In its first 24 hours of release, the mobile version of Chrome has been downloaded between 50,000 and 100,000 times, according to the Android Market statistics. It’s been rated 2,102 times and currently boasts a tremendously high average rating of 4.3 out of 5 stars.