With over a billion installs through the Play Store, the Chrome web browser is the most popular browser app on the Android platform. It’s not hard to see why, though, given the popularity of its desktop counterpart even though that one has become laggy and bloated of late like the monsters it saved us from a decade ago.
While Chrome’s popularity has a lot to do with its functionality and feature set, we cannot ignore the fact that it has had a superior advantage (which has even been the subject of a mega antitrust court case in the European Union which saw Google being fined USD 5 million) by being pre-loaded on all Google Play-certified devices. You see, there is a difference in approach to the way Android is distributed and operates.
There is the Android Open Source Project (AOSP), which is basically the operating system’s source code without any additions and from which interested parties can take it and customize it to their liking without having any obligations to the platform’s gatekeeper, Google, because, open source. There is also Android with Google’s Mobile Services (GMS). This is what most of us end up interacting with. The mobile services being referred to are simply Google’s own apps and services. Like the Play Store, Chrome, Google Drive, etc.
It is this approach that has propelled not only the Chrome browser but also other Google apps like YouTube and Gmail, to achieve 10-figure install numbers on the Play Store. This is because as per the terms of the agreements between device makers and Google, Google’s own apps must be pre-installed for the certification to stay in place and for devices to be allowed access to the over 1 million apps available on Google’s app and content store.
As such, Chrome, big as it is, is the most standout “non-Go” app that can be found pre-installed on devices running Android Go, a variant of the Android operating system but tuned to suit smartphones with less system resources (1GB memory or below) to work with and assuring users of a better experience.
Even though Google has allowed device makers to play around with the user interface as part of customizing and differentiating their Android Go devices from others, Android Go smartphones still remain Android Go devices through and through.
As with anything meant for use as Google envisioned, users will be quick to notice the lack of apps for tasks like video playback and even an out and out image gallery (the Photos app simply doesn’t cut it). Buoyed by the need to leave the already meagre storage space to the user, one has to go shopping for a third-party alternative on the Play Store, something that is counterproductive since the same space that a pre-loaded app could’ve taken but didn’t, ends up being taken, anyway.
So, what if that could be avoided? Turns out, that is exactly what Google has been thinking about. And it is doing something while at it.
Version 69 of Chrome, which is currently under testing, adds media playback to the popular browser app specifically targeting Android Go devices thus negating the need to install a separate app for doing the same, unless it’s either absolutely necessary or the user wishes to do so. If you have either one of the several Android Go smartphones available in Kenya right now (Tecno F series, Nokia 1, Tecno Spark 2, Safaricom Neon Kicka 4, itel A32F, etc), you can download the Chrome Beta app and take it for a spin.
It’s not just Android Go users who are taken care of in Chrome 69. Other users can expect to see a revamped download manager when the update starts seeding next month. Chrome 69 also follows in the footsteps of Android Pie by supporting the notch. There’s no escaping that monstrosity, it appears.