The ongoing coronavirus outbreak has thrown a wrench into Chrome's release schedule. Chrome 81 took longer than usual to complete, and Google is skipping version 82 altogether. Thankfully, version 81 has finally moved to the stable channel, and there are a few new features worth talking about.
One of Google's primary goals with Chrome is to narrow the gap between web and native applications, and part of that is giving web apps access to the same hardware that native apps have enjoyed. Web Bluetooth was a major step in this direction, and now NFC can be manipulated by web apps.
The new Web NFC API allows web apps to read and write to NFC tags. Google says this will be useful for museum exhibits, inventory management, providing information in conference badges, and anything else NFC is already being used for. Maybe now someone can make a web-based Amiibo emulator.
The API is incredibly easy for developers to use, as only a few lines of code are required to write data to a tag, or read existing data. However, Web NFC is still in the Origin Trial stage, which means the standard may change and is not enabled by default.
Augmented reality & Hit Test API
WebXR is the new version of WebVR, designed to create both virtual reality and augmented reality experiences in your browser. Chrome 81 finally enables augmented reality for everyone, so no flags or other options are required, and it adds a new 'Hit Test API'.
The Hit Test API makes it easy for web apps to place virtual objects in real-world points using a device's camera, which then stay in place as you move the camera around. Chrome on Android uses Google Play Services for AR (formerly ARCore) to power WebXR, so this works just as well as any augmented reality Android application.
You can try a few demos of WebXR here. The one shown above is the 'Hit Test' demo.
Chrome Beta 73 introduced the Badging API over a year ago, which allows web apps installed to your computer to show a badge next to their icon. For example, the Twitter web app uses it to display how many messages are unread. Starting with Chrome 81, the Badging API is enabled by default.
Unfortunately, Android only displays a badge over app icons when an alert is sitting in the notification shade, so the API isn't supported on mobile.
As always, Chrome 81 includes changes for both users and developers. Here are some smaller changes in this update:
- Chrome now automatically upgrade HTTP images on HTTPS sites to HTTPS, to reduce mixed content warnings. If the image can't be loaded over HTTPS, it will revert to the original URL.
- TLS 1.3 security has been hardened in Chrome 81.
- The new CSS image-orientation property allows images to be rotated with only CSS.
- Web apps with media notifications can now work with Android 10's notification seek bar.
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.