Earlier today, Google announced Chrome for iOS (iPhone and iPad), and thanks to Richard Gaywood finding a direct link to the App Store, I got the chance to play around with it in-between a busy schedule of sessions and meetings at I/O 2012. Chrome on iOS weighs in at 12.8 MB and is version 19.0.1084.60. 


Earlier I had a glimmer of hope that Apple had relaxed the App Store rules to allow Chrome as a real native application on iOS, complete with its V8 JavaScript engine and newer version of WebKit (535.19). Unfortunately, as suspected, Chrome on iOS uses iOS' UIWebView, which means the same rendering engine as mobilesafari. On my iPhone 4S running iOS 6 B2, you can see the same user agent string (with the Chrome OS version tacked in between some other things) shared between mobilesafari and Chrome.

iOS MobileSafari
Location WebKit Version HTML5test.com Score CSS3test.com Score Sunspider 0.9.1
iOS 5.1.1 534.46 324 + 9 52% 2226.1
iOS 6.0 B1 534.46 360 + 9 57% 1842.9
Chrome for iOS (on iOS6 B2) 534.46 360 + 9 57% 6839.4

In addition, like other apps leveraging UIWebView, there's no access to mobilesafari's Nitro JavaScript engine which has JIT and other optimizations that make it run much faster. That means JavaScript execution is significantly slower inside Chrome on iOS than it is in mobilesafari.

On the positive side, the Chrome interface is pretty much exactly how it appears on Android, including the nice tabbed card switcher complete with the ability to close and switch tabs by swiping off the edge of the screen. Scrolling around inside webpages is also nice and speedy on Chrome for iOS, which isn't a  surprise since, again, it's using UIWebView. The real feature in Chrome for iOS sadly isn't a superior browsing engine, but rather the ability to sync your tabs, pages, and back history across the desktop and more mobile platforms. 

Update: As NobleKain points out in the comments, there's a discrepancy between WebKit versions between iOS 6 B1 and B2. B2 is now running 536.13, but WebView remains 534.46. Either way for users running iOS 5.1.1, these should be the same, I just unfortunately only have a device on me running the beta, hence the discrepancy.

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  • wifiwolf - Friday, June 29, 2012 - link

    You can wait for when the shares are on the downside. While they're going up, all EU and others are stakeholders there and probably shareholders too.
  • Steelbom - Saturday, June 30, 2012 - link

    Full OSes and Mobile OSes are an entirely different ballgame. And Microsoft had a massive market share, unlike iOS.

    It's likely for security reasons that Apple isn't allowing UIWebView to use the Nitro Javascript Engine, as it requires that unsigned code be run. Safari has things in place to prevent that from being exploited and allowing UIWebView to have access to the Nitro JS Engine may allow for it to be exploited.
  • Striderevil - Sunday, July 1, 2012 - link

    I'm sure they could ask other developers to put in similar safe guards if security was the only issue which I'm sure most would comply to be able to sell the full third party browser experience to Apple users.
  • Steelbom - Monday, July 2, 2012 - link

    Sure... but remember that this means every UIWebView -- including apps already on the App Store -- would have this potential problem. Perhaps Apple will open it up (safely) for UIWebView, but they absolutely won't if it could be exploited. I honestly don't know why they do it but, seeing how Apple keeps things locked down, it just fits.

    And what about developers that don't? There will be plenty of them.
  • Striderevil - Sunday, July 1, 2012 - link

    Apple was a dominant player in the early pc market but closed, over priced environment and hardware forced many business especially during recessions to move with a stable low cost alternatives which included first IBM and then Dell running a cheaper but stable OS, Windows whose updates and support didn't fave to be paid for.

    Apple is doing the same thing all over again and its only a matter of 1-2 years before they lose to alternative hardware and OS devices.
  • Steelbom - Monday, July 2, 2012 - link

    I don't think Apple will ever lose what they've go so far. They won't let that happen.
  • darkcrayon - Monday, July 2, 2012 - link

    Apple never had the market they have with the iOS devices now. And the iOS devices are similarly priced to the competition. I don't think you can compare this exactly to the desktop computer industry in the 80s and 90s. The iPod certainly never lost to cheaper competitors. Apple basically led that market until the market itself was replaced by smartphones.
  • ThreeDee912 - Tuesday, July 3, 2012 - link

    Apple screwed up badly in the 90's after Jobs left. They made dozens and dozens of different models of Macs with slightly different specs, like the dreaded Performa series.

    I mean, look at this:

    Plus the "Classic" Mac OS had horrible memory management and was prone to crashing.

    Jobs returned in late 1997 after Apple bought NeXT, threw out the stupidly confusing lineup of beige boxes, and slowly moved everything to OS X.

    It wasn't because stuff was closed or priced high, it was because their hardware and software back then were crap.
  • Steelbom - Saturday, June 30, 2012 - link

    They've got reasons for not allowing UIWebView access to the Nitro JS Engine.
  • ciparis - Saturday, June 30, 2012 - link

    The opening images look so bad on a retina MBP that I thought my computer was broken. Please don't post text images again -- please, I beg you!

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