Why is Chrome for Android still a second-class citizen?

There is no technical reason why Chrome for Android shouldn't be able to run extensions, and yet it doesn't. Why? It's time that Chrome for Android had the same capabilities as desktop Chrome.
Written by David Gewirtz, Senior Contributing Editor

The Free Dictionary defines "second-class citizen" as "A person considered inferior in status or rights in comparison with some others."

I contend that Chrome for Android is being treated like a second-class citizen compared to the desktop version, because, while it is fully capable of matching many of the features of the desktop version, it has been denied those capabilities.

I am, of course, speaking of extensions.

Chrome extensions are built using a combination of HTML, JavaScript, and CSS. Each of these technologies exist in desktop Chrome and they each also work in Android.

Now, when it comes to iOS, that's a different story. Up until iOS 8, Apple required third-party browser users to use WebKit and an inferior version of JavaScript compared to that which was used in Safari. In iOS 8, browsers may be able to use the same JavaScript engine as Safari uses.

But that's not the point. We all know iOS is a weird, alternate universe where we're all second-class citizens. I'm talking Android, land of the free and home of the brave, where we get to run the software we want, and get as many capabilities as we're able to handle.

And yet, Android's version of the Chrome browser does not allow extensions.


Oh, sure, back in the day, you could make the case that smartphone processors were barely capable of throwing images on the screen and enabling something as resource-sucking as extensions could make mobile browsers virtually unusable.

But today? The Samsung Galaxy S5 is powered, according to Wikipedia, with a "2.5 GHz quad-core Snapdragon 801 system-on-chip with 2 GB of RAM." That beats the pants off my old Zotac Mag PC, with its anemic old 1.6 GHz Intel Atom 330 processor, and yet that PC is running Windows 8 with Chrome and Chrome extensions.

My point is that there's no longer the excuse that mobile devices just don't have the horsepower to run a browser with extensions, since mobile devices today often have more power than the desktops of just a few years ago -- and those run Chrome with extensions just fine.

Another argument might be the question of why you'd want to customize the smartphone experience. I'd accept that from the iOS community, for whom customization is now only starting to be considered. They're just now getting the ability to replace the stock keyboard, after all.

But this is Android. My Samsung S4 is heavily customized, with a unique launcher, a few carefully chosen widgets, and Tasker scripts that respond to my spoken commands to control the lighting in my home. And yes, I'll tell you more about that in 2015, when my Automating Android series starts running.

My point here is that Android was built to be customized, and yet we can't tune our browser. We've established that Android allows customization and that the hardware can certainly handle it.

And it's not like the technology inside the Chrome versions are radically different. Chrome for Windows, Linux, OS X, Android, and even iOS use the same layout engine (Blink 537.36, a fork of WebKit) and the very same V8 JavaScript engine.

There's no technically sound reason (anymore, at least) that Chrome for Android can't support extensions. And yet, it does not.

Why? I ask you this, in the spirit of the holiday season, in the spirit of friendship, equality, and peace on earth, why can't Chrome for Android run extensions? Why is it still being treated like a second-class citizen.


If you think Chrome for Android is worthy of equal treatment under the code, please indicate your support in the TalkBacks below.

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