A few days after the release of Chrome 57 for the desktop, Google has started pushing out the latest update to Android users. This time around, Chrome has more controls for Chrome Custom Tabs, the ability to add recently-visited search engines, support for WebAssembly, and more.
Improvements to Chrome Custom Tabs
Chrome Custom Tabs have been around since 2015, as a way for applications to open web pages without starting the whole browser (or building their own viewer from scratch). Essentially, only the 'core' rendering engine and other basic features of Chrome are loaded when using Custom Tabs.
The feature is being used by countless Android apps, but the lesser functionality of Custom Tabs vs. the browser has been a common source of frustration. But starting with Chrome 57, Custom Tabs essentially have all of the controls of the full Chrome browser.
Left: Custom Tab with Chrome 56; Right: Custom Tab with Chrome 57
New options include adding the site to the home screen, searching the page (finally!), requesting the desktop site, bookmarking, and saving the page for offline reading. In addition, Chrome 58 will add the ability to open Custom Tabs links in new tabs.
More search engine options
Unlike Chrome on the desktop, Chrome on Android has never allowed adding custom search engines. You could only pick from a list of pre-defined engines - limited to Google, Yahoo, Bing, Ask, and AOL. Now, Google has added the ability to set any recently-visited engine as the default for web searches.
For example, after searching once on DuckDuckGo, it showed up as a search engine option in Chrome settings. I'm glad Google has finally added this feature, but it doesn't seem to work with everything. WolframAlpha didn't appear as an option, even after multiple searches (yes I know it's not a web search engine, but it's still a search engine).
Not only will WebAssembly allow for more native-like performance in web applications, but it also means porting native applications to the web will be easier. We'll likely have to wait a while before the impact of WebAssembly becomes noticeable, but with Firefox already supporting it, the future looks bright. You can try out a WebAssembly game here, but the game's controls don't work on mobile.
Improved media notifications
You've probably noticed that while playing video or audio in Chrome on Android, a notification appears allowing you to play or pause the media easily. This is especially useful for playing content in the background - you can switch to another tab (or another app) and still maintain control of playback.
Left: Normal HTML5 audio notification; Right: Media Session API notification
Chrome 57 introduces support for the Media Session API, which allows pages to provide more controls and info in media notifications. Pages can optionally add seek and skip buttons, as well as album art and other metadata. The notifications look great on Android Wear too, as seen in the screenshots below.
If you want to see a demo of this in action, check out this example.
Chrome 57 has several more additions that both web developers and normal users will enjoy. Here are a few of the more notable changes:
- The article suggestions on Chrome's New Tab Page are now updated more frequently
- Physical Web suggestions, based on your surroundings, are now visible in the address bar
- Much like with YouTube for Android, tapping full screen on a video now changes your device's orientation to match the video
- Support for CSS Grid, new CSS text decorations, and CSS caret-color
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. Rather than wait for Google to push this download to your devices, which can take days, download and install it just like any other APK.