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Chrome Browser, Web Store and Chromebook at Google I/O Keynote

by Dio Synodinos on May 11, 2011 |

During the second day keynote at Google I/O, there where several important announcements regarding the Chrome Browser, Web Store and Chromebook.  This post from InfoQ’s correspondent at the conference summarizes those new developments.

At the beginning Vic Gundotra, Senior VP of Social for Google, took the stage and commented that there where over 600,000 people worldwide watching the live stream.

He then introduced Sundar Pichai, Senior VP of Chrome, who talked about how an amazing platform the open web has become, and how much Chrome has grown over the last years. With over 70 million active users last year, it has now reached 160 million users. Also he mentioned how hard his team has been working to get Chrome working on Mac and Linux for version 6 and how they have decided to pursue a 6 week release cycle that has lead at the latest stable version which is 11. Sundar, said that the good news is that all browser vendors are pushing the web platform forward and the progress in HTML5 APIs from all the vendors, is leading to a more consistent experience.

Then Ian Ellison Taylor started talking about the new APIs that are available to browsers and focused on the following case studies:

  • He showed how the Clicker app from the app store, allows users to views web video and how with the use of Chrome developer tools, one can add speech support to this application. In order to do that he inspected an input field, and added the webkit-speed attribute in the elements’ inspector.
  • Similarly he showed how Google Translate supports speech input.

Ian emphasized the huge performance improvements that had landed on Chrome since 2008 that “fundamentally changed the kind of applications you can build on the web”. He suggested that at this point JavaScript is no longer the bottleneck  and the current focus is on graphics performance and GPU acceleration. The later improves both CSS and Canvas 2D, which is very important for games, as well as sprite animations.  In order to demonstrate the performance improvements that GPU acceleration brings, he used Microsoft’s fish tank page and claimed a x10 performance improvement with the GPU acceleration. He also showed the equivalent Mozilla fish tank page, where the use of WebGL was claimed to allow for an additional x10 performance improvement (a total of x100).

Ian also mentioned the TinkerCad service, which uses these technologies to provide 3D design inside the browser.

Sundar followed by saying that “speed is the fundamental underpinning behind Chrome” and “a game in WebGL today is x100 times faster than 6 months ago”.

He continued to talk about how the Web Store, helps developers reach users and monetize from their apps. He announced that as of today, the store is available in 41 languages worldwide.

Creating a seamless payment experience without breaking the application flow, is a big issue for the Chrome team. Vikas Gupta talked about how “in-app payments” are made frictionless, so that users stay engaged inside apps, but are still secure and safe. He gave the example of a comics app, where users could decide to make the payment, after they had downloaded and started reading the actual comic book. The big announcement there was that this payment platform can be integrated in a web app with the use of a single line of code and the web store would only charge a flat fee of 5% (to the developers).

At that point Sundar introduced AngryBirds’ Peter Vesterbacka who demoed a web version of the popular game. This works with 60fps on modern hardware so it is a pretty smooth experience. The web version of AngryBirds was build with WebGL and has a fallback to canvas. With hardware acceleration users get an HD version while there is also a fallback version for older platforms. This app also uses the browser’s local storage (App Cache) so the users can play the complete game offline.  Also GWT was used and the app is hosted on Google App Engine.

Aaron Koblin, followed demoing an “integractive music experince project”, which showcased the power of JavaScript, HTML5 and especially WebGL.

Sundar continued talking about ChromeOS and how contemporary notebooks have several “legacy staff” like BIOS, hardware detection, kernel, antivirus, etc. making them “a really complicated experience”. He continued talking about the Chromebook, which will feature:

  • Instant turn-on
  • Will always be connected (pay-as-you-go services)
  • Have an all-day battery
  • Sync with desktop Chrome
  • Users will be able to “access their stuff over the cloud”,
  • Web apps get better over the time (no degrading over time as PCs),
  • Security is build from the ground-up - all user data is encrypted and there is Chrome’s sandbox.

At the beginning there where 1 million applicants for the Chromebook program and Google shipped thousands of devices (project Cr-48). Since then, they continued working closely with Adobe for Flash support, Intel for speed, and other vendors.

Kan Liu product manager of ChromeOS followed, showing the file manager of ChromeOS by downloading a PDF from Gmail.  Similarly he demoed media usage, both locally and from media services like MusicBeta. He also showed photo management and sharing on the web with the Picassa web app. Similarly he showed the use of Google Docs and emphasized on the fact that any 3rd-party service can make use of these APIs since Google is: “Trying to open the worlds of local files to web apps”.

After that, Sundra talked about how hard his team worked to make Gmail, Google Docs and Calendar work offline, a feature that is already available internally in Google and will be made available to the open public in the summer.

He continued showing the two first Chromebooks that will hit the market on June 15th, from Samsung and Acer, which will have “full jail braking build-in”.

There was also talk about how Chromebooks and a console for administration will be made available to businesses for a monthly flat fee of $28 per user. A similar program will be made available to schools and governmental institutions for $20 per user. These offerings will also become available on June 15th and you can find more information on Google.com/chromebook.

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