The Chrome internet browser was available for desktop and laptop computers some considerable time before it arrived on our Android devices. When the Chrome beta arrived, it was February 2012, three months after Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich was released with the Samsung Galaxy Nexus. Chrome for Android required Android 4.0 or later and it has been meticulously updated ever since. However, news today from Google is that this will change: the next version of Chrome, 42, is the last that will work on Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich; future versions will require at least Android 4.1 Jelly Bean. Version 42 is due to arrive in mid-April and marks the twenty-fifth update to Chrome since the beta was released. When Chrome version 43 is released in May, devices running Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich will not receive the update although of course, Chrome will still work on these devices.
The reason for Google dropping support for Chrome on Android Ice Cream Sandwich is because over the last twelve months, the share of Android devices running Ice Cream Sandwich reduced by 30% as more and more devices have been upgraded to Jelly Bean (and later). Now, according to Google’s data, under 6% of devices run Android 4.0. Google would rather devote the resources used for keeping Chrome working over Ice Cream Sandwich into improvements to the code for later versions of Android. Google’s blog writes that supporting Android Ice Cream Sandwich often involves building workaround or special cases, which adds code complexity, reduces performance and of course, slows development down. Going forward, not having to support Android 4.0 should be good news for Chrome and ought to streamline the application. We may see a noticeable performance improvement.
Whilst this decision by Google is in itself news, there are potentially wider implications to the announcement. Google’s perseverance in keeping Chrome updated for a three year old operating system has likely also kept third party developers also keeping their applications up to date for older versions of Android. Google dropping ongoing development for Chrome might also encourage developers to do the same. The mobile world moves quickly and Android has come a long way since Ice Cream Sandwich, but many models are still running this version of the operating system. With Chromebooks, Google has promised to maintain these for five years since launch; that’s two years longer than with Android. Although Chrome OS and Android are different operating systems, running on different hardware (even if they can run on the same hardware), the two platforms are being treated differently. What do our readers think? Is supporting an operating system for three years long enough, or would you rather see support for Android closer to Google’s five-year support for Chromebooks? Let us know in the comments below.