Chrome and Android push HTML5 further

by Ashley Gullen | 21st, October 2014

While the recent iOS 8 update did a lot to improve HTML5 on Apple devices, Google just announced Android 5.0 Lollipop, and it has some surprises!

Chromium webview now auto-updates

The Android 5.0 web view (that's the control which runs your games in native apps, as used by PhoneGap) now also supports WebGL, Web Audio, and (going further than iOS 8) WebRTC. That's three key technologies to make HTML5 games work smoothly. Only a few weeks ago I highlighted Google's stated plan to auto-update the web view, and it turns out they've already done it for Android 5!

This is huge. Android OS updates are famously slow, with unmotivated manufacturers and carriers at best taking months to deliver updates to old devices, if at all. Google's first workaround to this was to use Google Play Services to update Android - a special system app that can be updated through Google Play to add new system features. Since it bypasses all the carriers and manufacturers and works as far back as Android 2.2, new Google Play Services features can reach the majority of the Android marketplace very quickly, making the rate of OS updates less important.

Auto-updating the web view is like doing that for web apps. It no longer will matter much if future Android verisons like 5.1, 5.2 or even 6.0 take years to gain a majority market share. The web view will keep updating bringing the latest Chrome features, fixes and performance improvements to any Android 5.0+ device.

I think it's a very interesting way of looking at things to see Chrome as the OS for web apps. While native apps get stuck with the glacial update cycle that manufacturers reluctantly eke out, web apps get a rapid release cycle and updates independent of the Android version. In a way that's a huge advantage for web apps: their platform is continually moving forwards, even on old devices where the native technology is standing still. It's a far superior solution even to iOS's model of controlling all the hardware and software and making sure updates reach everyone: that still only happens once a year, takes about another year to reach saturation, and in between Apple are incredibly cautious about adding any new features.

Of course there's still the wait for Android 5.0 to gain broad market share. This will likely take a year or two. But this could be the last time we need to sit around waiting for an Android update to make its way to everyone.

Chrome improvements

Chrome on Android 5.0+ also has a neat feature where each browser tab is an app-level task. In other words that 'app switcher' button will list each browser tab separately, instead of just one Chrome app that contains the tabs. This is a neat way to make web apps like Construct 2 games feel a bit more native, since they integrate better with the OS. Chrome also already has the 'Add to home screen' option, allowing web apps to basically get an app icon. (And remember of course that Construct 2 games work offline as well.)

Chrome 38, just released this month, also supports orientation lock. (Due to spec changes you'll need r185+ for this to work with Construct 2 games.) This means your browser games can lock to landscape or portrait as appropriate, again a useful "native" feature that has come to the browser. Note that orientation lock is only supported after using the Browser object's 'Request fullscreen' action, which itself can only be done in a user input trigger (like 'On touched object'). However it's very cool to have a fullscreen orientation-locked game running right from the web - something iOS sorely lacks.

A great platform for HTML5

Android 5.0 is going to be a great platform for HTML5 games, whether they're in the browser, saved as home screen web apps, or built with PhoneGap for the Google Play Store. I'm really impressed Google already got the web view auto-updating, and Chrome keeps on getting better as ever on its rapid release cycle. I'd say it looks like Android is the platform with the most exciting future for HTML5 developers.

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