Google I/O 2013 keynote

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Google shows off Chrome improvements for better, faster mobile browsing

Google called its Chrome browser “the most popular browser used in the world” during Wednesday’s Google I/O keynote. And the company used that occasion to present updates to Chrome on both desktop and mobile, as well as new developer tools for Chrome.

Google says Chrome usage continues to grow dramatically.

While Chrome OS was mentioned, Sundar Pichai—Google’s senior vice president of Android, Chrome, and Apps—said that Google would have more news to share on that operating system later this year. That said, he did describe the platform as “an ecosystem play,” and gave every Google I/O keynote attendee a free Chromebook Pixel.

Turning back to the browser, Pichai said that Chrome now has 750 million active monthly users—an increase of 300 million users from last year. Much of that growth is happening on phones and tablets: Chrome works on both Android and iOS, and Pinchai stressed that its goal is to “move the mobile Web forward.”

The power of Chrome

Linus Upson, Google’s vice president of engineering, stressed that the company wants the Web experience to be the same everywhere, across all devices, and “personalized for you.” Upson described how Chrome’s successful implementation of technologies like WebGL and Web audio APIs makes it possible to create powerful Web-based experiences that work across platforms and devices, wherever anyone can use Google Chrome.

“The browser is a means, not an end, so we’re always focused on making the browser smaller and faster,” Upson said, explaining that Chrome’s developers aim for three things—speed, simplicity, and security. Upson said that the speed of the browser’s V8 JavaScript engine has improved by 57 percent year over year on mobile devices.

Google crowed about its WebP image format, which it says creates smaller files than JPEG without sacrificing quality.

He also highlighted Google’s efforts to improve overall download speeds through several technologies: There’s WebP, Google’s image format alternative to JPEG, which Upson said can cut image file sizes by a third. There’s VP9, a new video encoding codec that Upson said requires just half the bandwidth of the more popular and ubiquitous H.264 codec—that means it could save bandwidth for mobile customers. Upson said that YouTube (which Google owns) “will roll out support for VPN later this year.”

But since few websites support such formats today, Upson said, Google is also working on “a data compression proxy” for Chrome on mobile devices. Currently available only in the Android beta channel, the compression engine rewrites the HTML, CSS, and JavaScript on webpages, converts images to WebP, and uses the SPDY networking protocol to make websites load faster on mobile connections—while conserving battery power, too. Users can actually check just how much bandwidth they’re saving if they enable the beta feature, too.

Let’s go shopping

Mobile Web shopping today takes too many steps, Google says. A new Chrome feature will cut those 21 steps down to three.

Besides speed and performance improvements, Upson also mentioned new ease-of-use features for Chrome users too. “Beyond just making webpages faster, we want to make things faster and simpler for users.” And Google’s starting with shopping.

“One of the hardest things to do on your phone today is buy something,” Upson said, claiming that the average online checkout process takes about 21 steps on a smartphone. That, he said, explains why the abandonment rate before completing an online purchase sits around 97 percent. “By building on the existing HTML5 autocompletion spec,” Chrome will now gain the ability to synchronize a user’s payment and shipping information across devices—cutting those 21 steps down to three: checkout, review the information Chrome offers up, and then submit. “This will make shopping from your phone much, much easier,” Upson said.

Web components

Before he wrapped up, Upson touched very briefly on Web components, a technology Chrome offers for developers to build their own HTML tags. Developers can take “smaller bits of HTML, CSS, and Javascript, and put them into a first-class component,” he said. That, in turn, leads to developers being “much more productive, and have applications that are much more delightful for users,” he said.

“We want this elegant UI framework that works across all devices and form factors,” Upson said. He then brought several volunteers on stage for a live demonstration of a Web-based game running in Chrome on multiple devices—including both Android and iOS devices—with a racetrack that spanned all the devices, with live gameplay fully synchronized through Web sockets.

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