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Android open source could lose bundled browser, but Chromium will fill the gap

Android open source could lose bundled browser, but Chromium will fill the gap


MG Siegler is claiming today that "there will no longer be a browser" in the Android Open Source Project, but Google says it's not yet sure — and either way, Chromium would be the way forward.

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Chrome for Android is, by virtually every measure, a step in the right direction for web browsing on Android devices — it works, looks, and feels better than the stock Android browser that it replaces. MG Siegler is making an interesting claim about the platform's transition to Chrome, though:

Chrome for Android will be a part of the Google Apps package. This means that once Chrome fully replaces Browser on Android, there will no longer be a browser that's a part of the open source Android.

In other words, the Android Open Source Project — the core build of Android that's freely available to anyone that wants to develop a device — wouldn't have a browser out of the box. Because the so-called "Google experience" apps like Gmail and the Android Market require Google's blessing to preload, OEMs (and users) could have a hard time finding a decent browser to use, particularly if Chrome were to join that package.

We reached out to Google and they've said they don't yet know how will this play out, but they've made an important point: Chromium, which underpins both Chrome for Android and the desktop, is a fully open-source browser, so there would be nothing stopping a device maker from bundling a Chromium-based browser along with their AOSP device. These manufacturers are already building an Android image for the phone; building Chromium at the same time wouldn't be much additional effort once Google has finished uploading the Android-specific Chromium code.

It's also important to note that this doesn't have much of an effect on most of the devices that we've come to know and use — virtually every handset sold in Europe and North America comes with Google apps like the Android Market, anyway, and they'll offer Chrome in the future. In many parts of Asia, meanwhile, "Google experience" handsets have lower penetration, but most of these devices are sold with alternative apps and app stores — these users would have no trouble getting their own browser, and they'd almost certainly have one preloaded anyway.

As for the most famous "forked" AOSP device, the Kindle Fire? Amazon uses Silk, the cloud-based browser it developed in-house — and we can pretty confidently say that it isn't paying much attention to Chrome today.