Chrome 54 was just released, bringing a substantial amount of changes for both users and developers. Now the first Chrome 55 Beta has been released for all platforms, and there are some exciting changes in store for Android users.

Download Manager

Chrome's built-in download manager first appeared in Chrome Dev early last month, but only now has made its way to the Beta channel. The Download Manager doesn't just serve as a simple list of all your downloaded files (or dozens of APKs, if you're like me), it's also how you get to saved pages.

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By tapping the new Download icon in the overflow menu (where the back/forward buttons are), you can save a page for offline use. As the name implies, you can open saved pages at any time, even without an internet connection.

Media player changes

Chrome 55 brings a few changes to the browser's HTML5 video/audio player. First, on some pages with video or audio content, a new download icon is visible. Tapping said icon starts downloading the media file.

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Notice the download icon. I bet you tried to click play, didn't you?

There are a few catches. This doesn't work on sites that have implemented their own player controls, or if the content is not a single file (for example, a media stream). As you can probably guess, this doesn't work for YouTube.

Additionally, a user gesture is now required to start audio using the Web Audio API. Essentially, this means that pages cannot start playing audio without you pressing a button (or some other function) first. This was already true for pages that used HTML5 video and audio, so this closes off any chance of auto-playing audio on webpages. If only this was true for video as well...

Share button inside web pages

This feature, called the Web Share API, is still very much in development and has not yet been adopted as a web standard. Even so, I still think it's worth mentioning. This proposed feature allows websites to share data to the destination of the user's choice. It is essentially Android's share button, but inside web pages.

Web pages themselves can share content. (image credits)

Web pages themselves can share content. (image credits)

Chrome, and pretty much every browser on Android, already support sharing web pages to other apps. This API is proposing a share button that works inside web pages, and said pages can choose what they want to share. The Share dialog (the pop-up showing all the apps you can send the data to) is implemented by Android itself, so you would see all of your installed applications there. Eventually, you may be able to share to other web pages as well.

The goal of this API is to work everywhere, not just Android. Chrome 55 supports this new API, but I was unable to find a working demo to try it out.

Developer features

Every Chrome release brings new features for both users and web developers, and there is a massive number of additions in this release. Some of these are very exciting, and I can't wait for sites to start using them (well, most of them).

  • Unified input handling: Web pages still detect input mostly the same as they did ten years ago, with APIs not designed with touch-controlled smartphones in mind. The new Pointer Events API allows pages to better-detect how you interact with a page, and replaces the janky MouseEvent and TouchEvent APIs. Basically, web pages using the old APIs will be much faster if they use the new Pointer Events API.
  • Touch actions: This is an extension of the last feature, but web pages can now change what touch actions you can perform on a page. For example, a site can block panning the page down or only allow scroll/zoom. The only beneficial use I see for this are for games, where accidentally scrolling on the page might cause input issues. Otherwise, this will probably be used by malicious pop-up ads just like the stupid HTML5 Vibrate API.
  • Asynchronous functions: This is really only interesting to developers, so I'll let Google's page about it do the talking.

APK download

The APK is signed by Google and upgrades your existing app. The cryptographic signature guarantees that the file is safe to install and was not tampered with in any way.

Chrome Beta
Chrome Beta
Developer: Google LLC
Price: Free