Chrome 89: Here's what's in the latest beta

Chrome 89 is bringing more hardware interactions to the web and blurring the lines between the operating system and browser.
Written by Liam Tung, Contributing Writer on
Computer user looking at smartphone in cafe with laptop and coffee.

Google's advancements should help browsers handle more inputs.

Getty Images/iStockphoto

Google has announced some new hardware advancements for its Chrome browser on the desktop that should help browsers handle inputs from more exotic devices, such as gamepads. 

The WebHID specification allows websites to retrieve information about locally connected Human Interface Device (HID) devices, which includes everything from a mouse to keyboards, as well as joysticks and gamepads like the Microsoft Xbox controller.  

As Google explains, there's a long tail of HIDs and some of them are old or too rare to be accessible by a PC's hardware drivers. WebHID uses the JavaScript programming language to bridge the gap between browsers, game controllers and other input devices, PCs and the underlying operating system.   

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"The inability to access uncommon or unusual HID devices is particularly painful, for example, when it comes to gamepad support. Gamepad inputs and outputs are not well standardized and web browsers often require custom logic for specific devices. This is unsustainable and results in poor support for the long tail of older and uncommon devices," Google explains. 

WebHID was one of the new application programming interfaces (APIs) that Apple rejected for its Safari browser due to concerns it could be exploited for user fingerprinting. It's a practice among some online marketers that use bits of JavaScript code to test for a range of conditions, such as whether a user has allowed a website to give notifications or access to the device's camera. Other examples include API fingerprinting and detecting whether sensors like a microphone are present. 

WebHID is enabled by default in Chrome 89, which is due for stable release at the beginning of March, 2021. 

Devices with near field communications (NFC) chips are also getting a boost in Chrome 89 by being enabled by default on Android. 

The new Web NFC standard was added to Chrome version 81 and allows websites to interact with NFC tags. That means people can use the phones and tablets in combination with a website or web app to, for example, get information from an NFC tag at a museum or conference. Those applications likely won't be used much until the COVID-19 pandemic is over. 

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Chrome also now supports decoding AVIF content natively using existing AV1 decoders on Android and WebView.

Chrome got support for the new AVIF image format (AV1 Image File Format) last year in Chrome 85. The specification enables faster page loads and improved colors in images. 

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