Mobility

Chrome improvements finally catch up to Google's mobile promises

Google Chrome is finally going on a diet with the upcoming release of Chrome 55, catching up to Google's mobile web push. The new version promises a better experience, consuming fewer resources.

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Image: iStockphoto/monsitj

As the world shifts to mobile, Google is doing everything in its power to accelerate that shift, going so far as to take a mobile-first approach to its celebrated search index. Everything, that is, except improve the Chrome browser so that it doesn't greedily gobble every system resource it can find. Chrome has been such a hog that simply using Apple's Safari browser has become a sure-fire trick to gaining an extra hour of battery life.

Finally, however, the Google Chrome team is catching up with the rest of Google's mobile militia, promising significant improvements to resource utilization in Chrome 55, an update promised for December 2016. For those of us who love the work Google has done to promote mobile, but have been frustrated by its foot-dragging on Chrome, this is very welcome news.

Chrome keeps marching on despite itself

Google Chrome has steadily gained market share for years, to the point that it has now displaced the hitherto dominant Internet Explorer on the desktop and Safari on mobile devices. Though once a rounding error, Google's combination of minimalistic design, integration of the search function, and raw speed put it ahead of more cumbersome browsers in terms of market share, both on the desktop:

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Desktop Browser Market Share, November 2016

Credit: Netmarketshare

And on the increasingly important mobile devices (including smartphones and tablets):

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Smartphone/Tablet Browser Market Share, November 2016

Credit: Netmarketshare

And yet, that original speed and performance advantage that Chrome could once credibly claim has vanished. Though some suggest that Chrome's prerendering and other functions offer ample rationale for Chrome's piggy ways, the fact remains that rival browsers like Safari manage to give a great experience without consuming all the RAM on one's machine.

Praise Chrome 55

Fortunately, this is about to get better—much better—in Google's upcoming Chrome 55 release, due in December. According to the Google developers responsible for Chrome, "Over the last few months the V8 team analyzed and significantly reduced the memory footprint of several websites that were identified as representative of modern web development patterns."

How "significantly"? Heap memory is down roughly 50% on average, while zone memory falls 40%. In addition, "Reducing the V8 heap page size from 1M to 512KB results in a smaller memory footprint when not many live objects are present and lower overall memory fragmentation up to 2x." This, in turn, "allows V8 to perform more compaction work since smaller work chunks allow more work to be done in parallel by the memory compaction threads."

While these improvements don't promise significant improvements to battery life, they're a step in the right direction.

They're also in keeping with Google's other deeply significant work on prioritizing its mobile search index. This should push more publishers to similarly prioritize the optimization of content for the mobile devices that serve as umbilical cords for most of us. This should translate into a better mobile experience which, again, is where we spend most of our time.

Fortunately, for those of us that default to Google Chrome, we'll not only get a better content experience on our smartphones, we'll now also not destroy our device's memory resources by preferring Chrome. Thank you, Google. It's about time.

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About Matt Asay

Matt Asay is a veteran technology columnist who has written for CNET, ReadWrite, and other tech media. Asay has also held a variety of executive roles with leading mobile and big data software companies.

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