There’s a seemingly irrational desire spreading throughout the smartphone users of the world for our web browsers to be awesome. Not just awesome, but on a performance scale comparable to that of the browsers on our computers. We don’t want the generic sounding Android Browser, or the mobile shadow of Safari, or even Opera Mini or Firefox Mobile. We want a real browser, a powerful browser… like Chrome. There have been whispers and guesses about Chrome for Android for a long time now, but nothing concrete has ever shown its face.
When Google recently announced new hardware partners for Google TV, the company that excited me the most was Marvell. Not necessarily because they have anything special to offer, but because they plan to offer Google TV on ARM chipsets. At CES this week, Marvell has been all over the place, right down to the lanyards for attendees. Their reference hardware running Google TV is their strongest product this year by far. This all sounds great, but what does it have to do with Chrome for Android?
Before now, Google TV has been on x86 chips, like the Intel Atom in the Logitech Revue. Android, the base for Google TV, was originally written for ARM processors and not completely optimized for x86. By moving Google TV to ARM, less hardware will be required for better performance. However, there’s another part of Google TV that has never been seen on ARM. The last Google TV update brought complete builds of Chrome to the platform, allowing for a huge boost in performance when it came to surfing the web on the TV. As it turns out, Marvells’s Google TV builds also run Chrome.
When asked about Chrome for ARM Google TV, a representative of the company explained that Google provided Marvell with everything they would need to compile Google TV on their hardware, including Chrome. Marvell engineers then took the source and optimized it for the reference hardware, and the work was done. And thus Chrome, built on Android, was in the wild.
My conversation with Marvell led me to do even more research. If Google already had ARM builds of Chrome for Google TV, why haven’t we heard anything about it for our phones?. In short, optimization. The Chrome experience on our phones needs to capture all of that power and performance and mix it with a mobile user interface. We need to be able to flick tabs away when we are done with them like we do notifications in ICS. We need to be able to experience the whole web all the time, and not just in some sad mobile version. Chrome for Android needs to be able to overcome all of the shortcomings of web designers who fail to properly design their websites. Above all else, it needs to be fast.
Chrome for Android is coming, but not anytime soon. The demonstration I was shown is already everything I described above and more. My source had it running on a Samsung Nexus S. During my brief stay at the Marvell booth to ask questions, my source introduced himself as a representative assigned to help support Marvell at CES for any advanced questions. In its unreleased form, Chrome for Android is very plain. I was not permitted to take any shots of it, but there is really nothing a photo or screenshot could show you. The browser is very fast, even on the Nexus S, and is already well on its way to being everything you could expect from a proper build of Chrome. Switching between tabs is incredibly easy, and dismissing tabs when you are done with them really does happen with a flick. After seeing this brief demonstration it was clear that this browser is going to be worth the wait.
Like many of Google’s projects, Chrome for Android is under some special code name. I wanted to grab his phone and run, or at the very least try and learn more, but there wasn’t much else to see right now. Chrome for Android is likely going to change quite a bit visually before it is released, but the underlying power and performance that has already been demonstrated shows that when this is finally released, it will dominate any other browser on the market today.