Chrome For iOS: Hands-On With Google’s New Browser
Yesterday Google announced the much-anticipated iOS version of their popular Chrome browser. In just hours the universal app had rocketed to the top of the Top Free Apps list in the App Store and a jailbreak tweak had shown up in Cydia allowing users to make Chrome the default browser (something Apple prohibits).
So, maybe you’re wondering what all the fuss is about? If so, then you’re in luck, because I’m about to show you exactly what all the fuss is about. The short version is this: all the features that make the desktop version of Chrome so great have made the jump to Chrome for iOS. What’s more, they’re bundled up in a really slick and easy-to-use interface.
When you first open up Chrome for iOS, you’re prompted to enter your Google password. This signs you into all your Google services – Gmail, Google Docs, YouTube, etc. – on the browser. This also enables browser sync, giving you access to any tabs you have open in Chrome on any other device – desktop, iPad, Android device, whatever. After that you’re given a quick demo of how Chrome works. Once that’s done (or you’ve skipped it, which is an option), you’re prompted to put in your first URL and/or perform your first search:
Once you’ve got a few tabs open, the issue becomes switching between them. Fortunately, this is pretty easy. What’s more, the interface is actually kind of fun. There are two ways to switch between tabs. If you’ve only got a few tabs open and you know how far apart they are, you can just swipe back and forth (see the image on the left, below). You have to start swiping all the way at the edge of the screen (right or left), otherwise Chrome will think you’re trying to interact with a tab’s contents.
The second way is to tap the little tabs box in the upper right corner of your screen (see the image on the right, below). Here you’ll see all your open tabs laid out like a deck of cards. All you have to do is flip through them until you find the one you’re looking for. You can also close tabs from this screen. Again, you have two options. The more mundane way is to tap the little X in the corner of the card. The other way is to simply swipe the tab to the right or left. It will be thrown off screen, closing it. The results are the same either way, of course, but swiping it is a little more fun.
As noted above, Chrome for iOS includes browser sync. Any tabs you have open on any other device running Chrome are automatically made available to you here. To access them, just tap the folder in the lower right corner of a blank new tab page:
As you can see, you can also access your bookmarks and recently closed pages from the same toolbar at the bottom of the screen. Your mobile bookmarks are kept in a separate folder from your desktop bookmarks.
So much, then, for Chrome on the iPhone. What about on the iPad? Well, Chrome for iPad is a lot more like what you’re used to in Chrome for desktop. The iPad’s screen real estate is much more like what you’d find on a desktop or laptop computer, which means that Google didn’t have to worry about being quite so economical with their space. Your tabs are back at the top of the screen. If you get a bunch of them open at once, they’ll eventually spill off the side of the screen. You can swipe back and forth across the tab bar to get to the ones you can’t see.
The new tab page looks a lot like what you see on the desktop version. It includes a list of your recently closed pages, as well as providing access to your bookmarks and the tabs you have open on other devices. Unlike the desktop version, there’s no access to the Chrome Web Store (yet?).
To create a new tab, all you have to do is tap the menu button next to the omnibox. Doing so gives you a drop-down list of options, including accessing your bookmarks, creating a new tab, creating a new incognito tab (more on that in a minute), going to the app’s settings, and more.
Switching between tabs works a little differently on the iPad than on the iPhone. For starters, the easiest way to do it is to simply tap the tab you want to go to in the tabs bar at the top of your screen, just like you would on the desktop version. If, however, that mundane approach doesn’t tickle your fancy, you can also swipe between tabs. With the iPad, though, nothing really moves. When you start swiping (again, all the way from the edge of the screen), the contents of all the tabs are grayed out and individual tabs are highlighted. Simply keep dragging your finger until the tab you want to see is highlighted, then stop.
The omnibox works pretty much exactly the way you’re used to from the desktop version: you just start typing and it brings up a mix of URLs and search results it thinks you might be typing.
Chrome for iOS also, of course, brings the notorious Incognito Mode to your iOS device. You can create a new incognito tab from the menu mentioned above. Chrome for iOS doesn’t mix your incognito tabs and your regular tabs. Instead it groups them together, allowing you to switch between the two by tapping the toggle in the upper right corner of the screen.
So, then, that’s Chrome for iOS. If you’re a Chrome user on your desktop, you definitely ought to pick this up. Unfortunately, Apple doesn’t allow it to be set as the default browser. Fortunately, as previously mentioned, the Cydia tweak BrowserChooser lets you change iOS’s default browser.
Chrome is a universal iOS app, which means that the same app will work on your iPad or your iPhone. It’s available now as a free download from the iOS App Store.