Google Chrome on iOS

Google Chrome shipped yesterday for iOS, and you may be wondering if it’s worth giving it a try even though it’s limited in significant ways due to Apple’s App Store policies. There are many reactions that bemoan this fact, pointing out that Chrome for iOS is not even as fast (at some limited functions) as Mobile Safari, and that it’s just a wrapper around Apple’s browser rendering engine. I decided to check it out because I’ve been using Chrome on my computer and want to see how well my bookmarks, open pages, and stored passwords sync.

After using it heavily for a day now, I’ve really enjoyed several of its design features, one of which makes it feel even faster than Mobile Safari. Chrome for iOS employs the omnibox, just like in the desktop version, which saves time in and of itself. But I’ve noticed that it seems to pre-cache web pages when I start a search, such that if I choose the first site or word in the list, it loads the page almost instantly. This shows the advantage of the omnibox and, at the same time, indicates some behind-the-scenes work that Google has done to help Chrome feel faster than Mobile Safari. The other design touch I’ve noticed is that Chrome for iOS lets me close a tab that is not the currently-active tab (see image below). This has always annoyed me about Mobile Safari, not being able to ‘x-out’ of an inactive tab.

Tabs in Google Chrome for iOS
note the X even on the inactive tab

The biggest annoyance so far is with accessing bookmarks, as there is no ‘Bookmarks bar’ in Chrome for iOS. This means that I have to tap-tap-tap to get to a bookmark that is only one tap away in Mobile Safari. Then again, it’s not bad to have that vertical scroll space back that would be occupied by the Bookmarks bar. Anyway, I’ve been impressed so far.

iA Writer Feels Like the Future

I tweeted earlier today that I was smitten with a new pair of apps, both called iA Writer. One is for the Mac and the other for iOS, and both are awesome on their own merits. They really shine, though, when used in parallel with iCloud.

special keyboard in iA WriterI’ve been doing significant writing on my iPad for the better part of a year and a half, and I’ve used a number of apps to do it. The first thing I noticed with the iOS version of Writer is the souped-up keyboard, which adds a single strip of keys and navigation buttons that makes writing and editing easier. The navigation keys include left and right arrows to move the cursor precisely and, on the iPad, keys that move the cursor one word at a time through your text. Both of these are huge time savers over the cursor placement loop. The other additional keys are for inserting commonly used punctuation, and having these on the primary keyboard is also a nice convenience.

The second feature that struck me is how seamless it is to work on a document across devices. To put it simply, you don’t have to understand or even think about file management, it just works. I can start writing something on the iPad and it’s just there on the Mac, where I can edit or add to it, and when I open it again on the iPad it’s all just there. Seamless. Behind the scenes the apps are both using my iCloud account to store the “master copy” of the file – what Steve Jobs meant when he said, “the truth is in the cloud.” There is no dragging the file in from the desktop, no pushing it out from the iOS app, it’s just there on both. This is awesome, and it demonstrates a different way to use “the cloud” from an approach like Google’s, where your documents are in the cloud and that’s where you interact with them. In the Apple cloud approach, I get to use a refined, custom, specific app to interact with my document, an app that is purpose-built for writing.

That brings me to my last observation, one that many others have commented on, which is the austerity of the editing experience in iA Writer. A lot of people wrote about the “focus mode” gimmick when these first shipped, but that’s not even the boldest design feature to my mind. These apps get out of my way and let me focus on writing like no others I have tried. I can’t tweak the fonts, the page size, the colors, anything. That’s a good thing – it is what it is, take it or leave it. Speaking of writing, it’s time I got back to work, but I just wanted to pass along how nice this pair of apps works together – feels like the future.