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Hey Google, thanks for listening and making Chrome more battery-friendly

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A couple of months ago I wrote a plaintive article titled "Chrome is still a threat to your MacBook's battery." As the title suggests, it wasn't an original complaint and I was only reiterating a longstanding grievance — one that extends to Windows laptops with equal prevalence. No matter the platform, Google's Chrome browser consumes significantly more energy than the default Safari or Internet Explorer alternatives.

Today, however, it might be more proper to use the past tense and say consumed instead. Google has updated Chrome with an overdue power-saving feature: pausing Flash content where it's not deemed central to the website being browsed. Flash has grown infamous for its rapacious use of resources and uncanny ability to destroy any mobile device's battery life. So less Flash should equate to — well, let's use Google's own words: "This update significantly reduces power consumption."

"This update significantly reduces power consumption."

Apple's Safari browser doesn't integrate Flash like Chrome does, and even once you do install the plug-in, there's a Safari Power Saver feature that only plays Flash content when it's either at the center of a page or you click to activate it. So it's basically the exact feature that Google is rolling out today.

The only question is why it took so long. Mine was just one in a sea of voices expressing discontent about Chrome's power inefficiency. Why were they not heeded sooner? Part of the explanation surely lies in Google having more urgent priorities, such as the significant recent upgrade to Chrome for iOS. The future, according to every tech company everywhere, is mobile, so it makes sense for Google to ensure it makes the big changes it needs to stay in the lead there before it turns its attention back to the desktop. Then there's also Chrome's continuing superiority over other browsers. Even I had to admit the futility of my complaint: despite Chrome's issues, it remains my default and best browser because its bad aspects are outweighed by the many good ones.

It's because Google didn't absolutely have to improve Chrome's power efficiency (at least not yet) that I commend the company for doing it. Sure, it's a belated response, but the crowdsourced complaining that only the web can summon has identified a pain point and nudged the big Mountain View company to eventually fix it. That's not to be taken as license to just go whine at Google's door for trifling matters, but I do believe that complaints — particularly constructive and cordial ones — can be instrumental in pushing software development forward.

Constructive and cordial criticism works

We should remember that the people who build the software we use every day are precisely that — people — and their passion for their work is fed by the feedback that we, the users, provide. Google may seem aloof and sometimes unresponsive, but don't confuse that with the company being deaf to its users' wants and needs. There's always someone listening, and our shared dissatisfaction with Flash and its excesses has now turned power efficiency into a real priority for Chrome, with Google promising it "will be rolling out more power improvements in the coming months."

The present update, which is available in the beta version of Chrome today, won't fix everything that ails the browser, but it aims to rein in one of its biggest downsides. There's no guarantee that Google will succeed, but I'm happy to see it trying.

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