Monday, 8 September 2008

The Future Is Chrome... Or Is It?

So Google has released their new browser called Chrome (read about it in my post... Google's new browser muscles in on Microsoft) and everything I've read since then is proclaiming it as the future. Well, I'm not so sure.

Beta Problems

Let's start with the immediate stuff. The problem with releasing a beta version of course is that it doesn't yet have all the functionality of its established competitors. Chrome is in Beta and isn't functionally integrated with all the conveniences we've gotten used to. Here's an example - It is probably going to be a while before you can get toolbars for Chrome, which is very limiting. I use, Google and Zemanta's toolbars. You probably use Yahoo or whatever. Until we can get versions of them for Chrome, there's really no sense in switching over.

Of course knowing Google they will learn very fast, but the speed at which the message about Chrome will spread means that a lot of people will download the beta, find that it is missing conveniences they're used to and give up on it right there. People hate stumbling over obstacles if they have working alternatives.

The main sell is that there's also lots of exciting tech stuff. A new javascript engine - do you know what javascript is? Runs Ajax faster. Do you care? Apparently this makes it the fastest browser ever... in microseconds for developer applications. To me it seems about the same as IE from a normal browsing perspective. I doubt you'll notice the difference.

So Is the Future Really Chrome?

Short answer is No.

Everyone's expecting this to be huge, but they're really they're all tech-savvy types, and not your average Joe. Personally I'm not so sure.

My main issue is that I don't see the mass market. The fact is that in any given space, once products, services or applications have matured enough to become fit for purpose, until the purpose fundamentally changes, there really is no gap to exploit.

In the computing space, operating systems, browsers, and office applications come free with the hardware. They are now sophisticated enough in functionality and user experience to do pretty much what any layman wants to do, and well enough to ensure complete satisfaction. Our computers don't crash often; existing browsers render text and multimedia fast and accurately; and there really isn't much else that most people need out of Word.

So what's the incentive? Brand? Google isn't Apple, and even if it was, how many people have ever downloaded Safari to their non-Apple machines? Do you even know what Safari is?

In a Nutshell

Point I'm making is that until the way we browse fundamentally changes, new entrants really have nothing to add for the majority of users. The future is touch screen and voice commands. When these start to become ubiquitous, what the mass market needs from browsers will change. At that point there will be a big gap for new entrants.

If Chrome was setting itself up to exploit that change, we'd be looking at the early rumblings of a browsing revolution. But it isn't. - The browser is not finger touch oriented in anyway, and in fact the functionality has become more mouse based, fiddly and precision oriented. There isn't even the 'alt' functionality needed for disabled access technologies.

So no, for the moment I don't really see Chrome taking over the world. I suspect it will be just another player like Firefox. I'll be keeping an eye on it anyway from the perspective of USP development, so if anything new comes to light that changes my view, I'll be sure to keep you posted!