Screenshot by Stephen Shankland/CNET)
Apple’s iOS will see a version of Google Chrome before the year’s out, and possibly before the end of Q2 — at least according to research firm Macquarie Group.
The equity research group claims that Chrome for iOS is due for several reasons, all of which can be summed up as part of the current “browser wars.” These include Google’s interest in reducing costs. It currently pays Apple for, among other things, each person using Google services in Apple’s default
Safari browser; getting people to use the services through its own browser would potentially offset those costs.
When asked to comment on whether an iOS version of Chrome was in the works, a Google representative said, “We do not comment on rumor or speculation.”
However, other points made by Macquarie’s analysts are harder to take at face value. While it’s true that Chrome for PCs has been an enormous success, as the firm notes, and that early reviews of Chrome for Android have also been positive, iOS is a very different beast from those two environments.
Chrome has been widely available on Windows since 2008, and on
Mac OS X and Linux since 2010. The Google browser gained early adoption because it offered a combination of speed, stability, and features that surpassed others. While Chrome is still a driving force, it’s no longer the far-and-away leader in the field, as Mozilla and Microsoft, respectively, have worked harder to maintain their market share for
Firefox and Internet Explorer.
The Android version of Chrome is a solid, fast browser, even in beta, but it faces a very different problem: platform support. It works only on Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich, currently running on 1 percent to 2 percent of Android devices, and Google has said it has no plans for making it work on legacy Android versions.
It’s not out of the realm of possibility that Google would be working on Chrome for iPhones and iPads. Both Chrome and Safari are powered by the WebKit rendering engine. But unlike Google does with Android, Apple doesn’t let third-party browser makers change iOS’ default browser from Safari. So even if you use a third-party browser on iOS as your primary browser, all links will still open in Safari, effectively handicapping any efforts to provide a true Safari alternative.
Google has also shown itself to be resistant to pushing the Chrome brand on Android. The default, nameless Android browser is WebKit-powered, but doesn’t bear the Chrome name in large part because it wasn’t based on Chromium, Chrome’s open-source foundation. It is unlikely that Google would contradict itself and submit anything to Apple labeled Chrome that didn’t have that Chromium core.
That doesn’t mean that Chrome on iOS couldn’t be useful to Google. Mozilla has a Firefox Home app so that people with iOS can sync tabs, bookmarks, and passwords from other full iterations of Firefox. The mobile-only Dolphin has a version for iOS and Android that allows cross-platform syncing too. Some people may feel that the limited third-party browsing experience on iOS is worth the hassle to stay with Chrome.
But even if Google is able to replicate the vast majority of the Chrome experience on iOS, the chances of Apple letting Google, of all companies, into its walled garden are extremely small.