Google to boost speed, cut data use on mobile devices

The speed and developer tools from Chrome desktop OS are being brought to Android mobile devices

Google has shown off new features that can reduce data consumption and improve Web performance on Android-powered mobile devices, drawing partly from capabilities already supported in the Chrome desktop OS.

The improvements include new file compression formats for images and video, and a new commerce system that makes shopping easier on mobile devices, Google said at its I/O developer conference Wednesday.

[ Also from Google I/O: Android tooling? Yes. New Android OS? No. | Get your websites up to speed with HTML5 today using the techniques in InfoWorld's HTML5 Deep Dive PDF how-to report. | Learn how to secure your Web browsers in InfoWorld's "Web Browser Security Deep Dive" PDF guide. ]

The idea is to bring some of the capabilities that Chrome offers on the desktop to the Chrome mobile browser, said Sundar Pichai, head of the Android and Chrome operating systems at Google.

"Our goal is to make the Web better, both on the desktop and mobile," said Linus Upson, VP of engineering for Chrome.

The mobile Chrome browser will get faster, for instance, by incorporating Google's WebP open-source image compression technology. The format creates image files that are 30 percent smaller than JPEGs, which will help reduce data use and also conserve battery life, Upson said.

WebP also supports lossy and lossless image compression, transparency, color profiles and animated images, meaning it can be a replacement for GIFs. It also supports the photo metadata supported by other image formats.

Images comprise 60 percent of the bytes downloaded with Web pages, so a better image format can speed up mobile Web browsing, Upson said. Some online services, such as Google+ and Facebook, have already adopted the royalty-free WebP format.

Google's VP9 video compression format is also being brought to Chrome on mobile devices. It's designed to deliver better quality video at lower data rates than the widely used H.264 format, Google said.

VP9 offers roughly a 50 percent savings in data bandwidth usage over H.264, Upson said. That could make a big difference to people struggling to stay within their monthly data usage limits.

YouTube will start supporting VP9 later this year.

"We want all websites to take advantage of these new technologies," said Upson.

In the interim, Google will offer a "data compression proxy," currently in beta for Android, which provides an alternative way to reduce data usage and speed up mobile browsing, by using proxy servers hosted by Google. The technology can reduce data usage by 50 percent, Google said.

Google also wants to improve the buying experience on phones and tablets. The average check-out process involves filling out 21 fields on a smartphone, according to Google, with an average abandoned shopping cart rate of 97 percent.

To address the issue, Google has built a feature into Chrome that collects the user's payment info and makes it available across other devices. At participating shopping sites, when the user goes to check out at an online store, a form will appear with the person's payment information already filled in. The person can just review the billing and shipping information and hit "submit," Google said.

For Android developers, Google highlighted a new way to build their own HTML tags. Pitched as the "first toolkit to natively take advantage of Web components," the feature is designed to let developers reuse bits of JavaScript, CSS and HTML code across different device platforms to simplify app development. This is an early stage project, Google emphasized.

"The goal here is to be able to allow developers to create their own tags, use them on a phone, and then take those same components onto a tablet," said Upson.

There has been a lot of speculation that Chrome and Android will be brought closer together now that they are run by the same person. Google's Andy Rubin left his post as head of Android in March.

Use of the Chrome browser has been growing steadily over the past couple of years, Google said at I/O. At the time of last year's show, there were 450 million monthly active users, and there are now more than 750 million, Google reported.

"We're just beginning to push the mobile Web forward," said Google's Pichai.

Zach Miners covers social networking, search and general technology news for IDG News Service. Follow Zach on Twitter at @zachminers. Zach's email address is zach_miners@idg.com.

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