Google’s Chrome browser is assumed to be coming for Apple’s iPhone, iPad and iPod touch devices by at least one analyst group. On Tuesday, Macquarie (USA) Equities Research released a lengthy note explaining what this would mean for both companies, suggesting it could reduce the amount of money Google pays to Apple for the use of Google searches in the native iOS Safari browser. Given the growth of iOS devices sales and usage, the reduction in such payments could be meaningful says Macquarie, if users transition from Safari to Chrome on iOS.
While the analysis of such an outcome makes sense, there’s a key problem that history has already proven true: Odds of a third-party browser on iOS becoming a major success are very limited at best.
Why? Because although Apple now allows such browsers — it originally didn’t — none of them can be set as the default browser, meaning all links in emails, texts or other apps will always open in Safari, regardless of what other browsers are installed. That’s a big usability barrier that gives Safari a competitive advantage on iOS, no matter how great Chrome is. Ironically, Google (as well as Mozilla) are grumbling about Microsoft giving its ownInternet Explorer an advantage on Windows 8 as well.
Macquarie’s note suggests that Chrome for iOS will get approved this quarter and is likely to have such limitations. I can’t speak to the timing, but I have zero doubt that the current default browser limitation will apply to a version of Chrome on Apple devices, just as it does with Dolphin HD, Opera and others.
Apple has always had full control of its smartphones and tablets; it’s one of the platforms selling points and there’s simply no reason to think that’s going to change. And while Chrome for Android can sync bookmarks with its desktop counterpart, so too can Safari between its mobile and desktop versions. The mobile version of Chrome now shows open desktop tabs as well, but there’s no reason Apple can’t add such functionality through its iCloud service.
Much of Macquarie’s analysis hinges on the believe that mobile browser wars are beginning, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But the expectation that Google will gain a large benefit from releasing Chrome on iOS is based on how Google has done in the desktop browser wars and that’s a huge mistake in my opinion. The desktop paradigm is decades old, and to assume the mobile market will simply follow the same path is an error in judgment. Chrome for iOS may indeed appear and some few will use it, but Google isn’t likely to gain much. Instead, users are best poised to get a benefit as some of the better features in Chrome could find their way in future versions of mobile Safari.