Opera and Chrome are probably the browsers that focused on speed the most. Opera didn’t really advertise the concept as heavily as Google did off-line for Chrome, but was first into providing quick mobile browsing with its Mobile Accelerator feature, in 2005. Since then, speed has become a key selling point for all the browsers, but will it be easy to deliver, now that developing a fast browser can be tricky on some platforms?

The recent apparition of Chrome on iOS redefined browser choice on the platform. Even if this introduction was welcomed, the tech scene raised an eyebrow on the speed matter. Being fast is Chrome’s motto, and according to tests, Safari for iOS is still rendering pages faster than Chrome. The lack of speed faced by Chrome for iOS is mostly due to the fact – as it will happen with Windows 8 – third party browsers on iOS don’t have access to the same tools as Safari does (in particular, the Nitro JavaScript engine). However, it’s not because Safari is sometimes four times quicker than Chrome to render Java Script that Chrome is not faster than Safari. Speed and apparent speed are like temperature and apparent temperature. A lot of factors can heavily impact the way temperature is perceived. Same with browsing speed, my top four below:

Rendering

Rendering speed is usually the first metric used to compare browsers’ speed. Relatively broad, it includes script execution time, cloud-powered rendering performance, video playback, advanced HTML5 support, everything that makes the actual browsing fast and smooth. Let’s be clear, all the browsers are similarly quick from a user point of view, especially since rendering is the very last thing normal people will care of. Most internet users will blame their ISP or their hardware for any sort of slow experience on the web. Despite its slower rendering time during the benchmarks, it’s really unlikely for Chrome iOS to see users complaining about speed – if we exclude power users and trolls, of course.

UX

Certainly not mentioned enough when being fast is the matter, the experience offered by some browsers actually impacts a lot the apparent speed. Is it quicker to check bookmarks on Safari mobile or on IE mobile? Is it quicker to use the Chrome Omnibox or the old style, dual input that can be found on browsers such as Firefox? Small improvements can make a big difference. Not having to restart Chrome after installing an extension is the sort of killer feature that makes the whole experience faster, or at least that will make users think so.

Extensions

They are a very important feature since they allow power users to fill the gaps between developers and users. Third party extensions have made the success of browsers such as Firefox or Chrome, and without these, saving bookmarks to Delicious, sending URLs to a phone, and so many more tasks wouldn’t be quick and easy. By increasing users’ productivity, most extensions contribute to the quest for a faster browsing experience. Syncing itself was introduced by extensions such as Google Browser Sync or Xmarks, and is now the feature browsers have to offer.

Sync

Syncing tabs, bookmarks and passwords between platforms is probably the feature that currently contributes the most to fast browsing. Most of the modern browsers offer their own approach of syncing (platform specific, cross platform…) but it’s safe to say Chrome is the clear leader. Finding the same bookmarks and search history on all my devices and OS’s (Linux, Windows, iPad, Android phone) is just an amazing experience. Sync is the best feature I can see in Chrome, and it’s the reason why I have switched to Google’s browser on iOS.

As shown in this post, measuring a browser’s speed by benchmarking page rendering only is a reductive approach since fast browsing can be achieved by other means. Improving the experience around browsing rather than improving the browsing itself, is a possible route. Cloud-powered solutions, pre-caching and sync are some others. But the most important to understand is the fact a majority of users will never focus on what’s really happening under the hood, but on what they feel. Something I believe the guys at Google are quite aware of… and that’s probably why they pushed Chrome on iOS despite the technical limitations.