Google released its iOS Chrome browser app back in June. It was once in the top 10 most popular apps on the App Store – not surprising, really, given its status as the most popular browser in the world. But it quickly lost popularity with a lot of people, including myself. I think third-party iOS browsers are kind of pointless since you can’t set them as the default, so I – like many others – lost interest in Chrome rather quickly.
But yesterday, Google updated its Google+ iOS app. Alongside an Instant Upload bug fix, and the addition of the ability for teens to join and create Hangouts, came a very significant change: Google+ links, when clicked, open in Google’s Chrome browser – if it’s installed. This is obviously a very significant move. Until now, every link that was opened from any app on an iOS device would open in Safari. For a while, it seemed like this was just a limitation of the closed nature of iOS, but it’s actually just how links are set up to open in most iOS apps.
Google is using an Apple tool known as “URL schemes” that allows the developer to pick how their apps work with other apps. So instead of coding Google+ to send its links to Safari, it’s coded to send them to Chrome if Chrome is installed; Chrome then opens the link and can continue browsing normally. But even more importantly than that is the fact that Google provides other developers documentation to help them code their apps to open links in Chrome instead of Safari, meaning that eventually, Chrome could be something of a default for users.
Google+ is the first app to include this functionality, but you can be sure that Google will start adding it to its other iOS apps soon, as well. Unfortunately, Google seems to be the only developer taking advantage of this workaround at this point – and because of that, I’m still not going to be able to use Chrome on my iPad as the sole browser. Still, it’s a start toward being able to pick default applications in iOS, and that’s something I believe the platform desperately needs.