Chrome for iOS is a godsend

Taylor Martin
 from Concord, NC
Published: July 3, 2012

In February this year, Google announced the Chrome for Android beta and made it available to all users with devices running Ice Cream Sandwich. Although Adobe promptly assured Chrome for Android would never see any Flash action, the introduction of Chrome on Google's mobile platform proved Google's dedication to making the mobile browsing experience better, and possibly opened the door for the fusion of Chrome OS and Android at some point in the future.

For several years now, I have been using Chrome as my primary browser on all desktop operating systems – Windows, OS X and Linux. And I was both surprised and pleased when Google made it available for Android. It meant that I could easily synchronize and organize my bookmarks from my phone or tablet and that I could even access my open tabs from other devices running Chrome.

Say, for instance, I was looking something up on my MacBook and had to leave unexpectedly. If I left Chrome running on my MacBook and kept the tab open, I could easily pick up browsing where I left off by simply checking the Other Devices tab in Chrome for Android. This is very similar to the Chrome to Phone service hat Google rolled out in 2010, where you could quickly send links to your Android smartphone with a Chrome extension and Android app. But instead of having to manually share the page, this method is frictionless, completely automatic.

Chrome for Android is easily one of my favorite release of this year so far. Even as meager as it actually is, it has changed the way I browse the Web via mobile. And it has changed the way I expect things to work. This caused a few problems when I picked up a new iPad in late April. I had gotten used to syncing tabs in Chrome for Android between my Galaxy Note and Transformer Prime, but I couldn't do this with the iPad. However, some of the applications I used to work with on the iPad were a little more user-friendly and had more interoperability than their Android counterparts. Eventually, I just started saving everything to Pocket, which ... works. But my Pocket saves started to become unmanageable and very, very messy over the course of just a few days.

A bit of faith was restored when Apple announced iCloud Tabs for iOS 6 and Safari (OS X) during the WWDC keynote. Even if I couldn't sync tabs between my HTC One X and iPad, I could at least pick up where I left off browsing from my iPhone, if need be. It wasn't exactly what I was looking for, but it worked.

However, much to my surprise and satisfaction, Google pulled its own trick out of its sleeve at the Google I/O keynote (day two): Chrome for iOS.

To be frank, Chrome for iOS isn't actually Chrome. It isn't the same Chrome we've come to know and love on our desktop computers, laptops or on Android. Apple doesn't allow third-party browsers in the App Store. Instead, Chrome for iOS is built on iOS WebKit, and it lacks a decent JavaScript engine (like the V8 engine in Chrome for desktop or Nitro used in mobile Safari), effectively making it slower than the stock Safari browser on iOS.

Nonetheless, it has taken its place as my go-to browser on the iPad and iPhone, following in the footsteps of Chrome for Android and the desktop version. In fact, I will go as far to say Chrome for iOS is a godsend. The only problem is that I constantly catch myself using Safari due to not being able to set Chrome as the default browser without jailbreaking. That said, there is a "workaround" of sorts that does a decent job through adding a bookmarklet, which you can find here. But I still find myself in Safari far too often.

But if it is neither as quick or capable as Safari, why use Chrome instead?

You should already know half of the answer to that question. Sync. The other half is buried in the “menu” drop-down button, but I'll get to that in a minute.

As you can see in the above picture, I can now sync tabs and bookmarks across all of my devices: my MacBook Air, Nexus 7, HTC One X, iPhone 4S and iPad. It's seamless, quick and requires no action from me beyond signing into my Google account on all devices. Go to open a new tab, and presto! All of the open tabs on all of my devices are there for the taking.

As for the menu button (or the button with three horizontal lines beside the address bar), it holds two key features that mobile Safari is missing. The first is Find in Page, or the ability to search for specific text on a Web page. The other is Request Desktop Site – something introduced in Android 4.0 that I have been begging for on all mobile operating systems since day one.

Update: Several commenters pointed out that you can search within a page in mobile Safari. Simply start typing in the search bar and the results from the current page are listed at the bottom of the list. I'll admit I was wrong – it's definitely there. But if you're not looking for it, it's easy to miss. Thanks, all!

And there's a little icing on the cake that's worth mentioning, too. The omnibar. In Safari, the search bar and address bar are separate. But from using Chrome on desktop for so long, I have become accustomed to simply performing Google searches straight from the address bar. I can't begin to tell you how many times I have started typing a search query in the address bar in Safari. (Oh, how frustrating that is!) Chrome for iOS, however, makes that possible and I am ever grateful. Incognito browsing and integrated voice search are quite nice, too. And the tab management on the iPhone version is second to none.

Have any of you adopted the mobile versions of Chrome? How do you like them? Does Chrome tab sync take the cake for you? Or are you still faithful to other mobile browsers?