Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) Feb. 7 launched a beta of Chrome for Android, a mobile version of the popular browser that is used by more than 200 million people worldwide on the desktop.
The catch is that it is currently only available for smartphones and tablets based on the latest Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich (ICS) operating system, which as media outlets have noted powers only about 1 percent of existing devices.
Despite the number of beta gadgets running ICS at the 2012 Consumer Electronics Show last month, Samsung's Galaxy Nexus from Verizon Wireless is the first and only smartphone to run ICS, and it's only been available since December. That's why there are so few ICS users.
Google is focusing on what's good in Chrome for Android, and that's pretty much what's good for Chrome on the desktop: Speed, ease of use, simple sign-in, privacy and bookmark synch.
Users can rapidly scroll through Web pages, and Chrome for Android leverages the company's Instant predictive search software to load top search results in the background as users type. Browsing Web pages on a mobile touch-screen can be a chore, so Google is offering a link preview feature that zooms in on links so that users don't have to hunt and peck for links.
Moreover, thanks to Google's cloud-based approach to computing, users who sign into Chrome for Android from their handset or tablet will be greeted by the tabs they left open on their computers. Tabs are also tailored for touch, naturally.
"We re-imagined tabs so they fit just as naturally on a small-screen phone as they do on a larger screen tablet," noted Sundar Pichai, senior vice president of Chrome, in a blog post. "You can flip or swipe between an unlimited number of tabs using intuitive gestures, as if you're holding a deck of cards in the palm of your hands, each one a new window to the Web."
Finally, Google has carefully considered user privacy for mobile browsing, porting its incognito browsing mode from desktop Chrome to Chrome for Android. Incognito mode lets users browse in a session without Chrome, saving cookies, Websites and other browser data.
For the best drilldown into Chrome for Android, MG Siegler offers this must-read run-through, cobbled from testing the mobile browser for the last few days.
Also, check out the early reviews from the Android Market, which confirm that Chrome for Android is a beta product, subject to bugs:
"Works smoothly. I would say a little bit smoother than stock ice browser on the Xoom. Some elements do not work correctly. Some videos cannot be made full-screen. Flash does not work. The one missing feature is the ability to change the user agent (request desktop site)."
"No option to request a desktop view and no flash support are things that will make me uninstall this app. I am being nice just by giving Chrome Beta a two-star rating. Hopefully, flash support will be implemented in the future. I know they want us moving away from flash content, but a majority of the Websites use flash and not HTML5."
Given Chrome's speedy rise to the No. 3 desktop browser, it will be interesting to see how rapidly its Android counterpart is adopted once it becomes available on more ICS devices. Or, we should say, as more ICS devices become available on which to use Chrome for Android.