Chrome 44 brings the Physical Web to iPhone, iPad

Google's project to interact with smart devices using the web instead of apps comes to iOS via Chrome.

Google recently released Chrome 44 for iOS, an update that offers support for the company's Physical Web project, as well as some handy navigation features to the iPhone and iPad. 

With the addition of Google's Physical Web support, iOS devices are able to communicate with smart devices without downloading a special app for each gadget. Instead, you can communicate via web technologies using the Chrome widget from the Today view on iOS.

When enabled, the Chrome widget scans for smart devices that support Physical Web interactions by broadcasting URLs.  When your device finds an appropriate URL, you can choose the broadcasting device from a list displayed in the Today View, and then interact with it.

Google's example for how this would work shows an iOS user purchasing time on a parking meter just using Chrome. The company also envisions using the Physical Web to interact with everything from vending machines to rental cars.

Why this matters: Google's Physical Web is an open standard that has the potential to make communicating with the so-called Internet of Things much easier. It would be a pain to have a multitude of apps for interacting with all the smart devices threatening to come into your life over the next few years. Relying on a web-based solution would make smart devices feel more universal and is one instance where the Web should trump apps on mobile—at least for short interactions like paying for time on a meter or a Coke from a vending machine. You may still prefer an app for more in-depth interactions like controlling your home thermostat or lighting system. 

There and back again

The Physical Web is neat, but the most immediately usable part of the update is the ability to move through a web page using horizontal swipes instead of the forward and back buttons. The new feature isn't for switching between open tabs, but shuffling through your browsing history on a single tab.

The feature is pretty intuitive and works similarly to what Safari has offered since iOS 7. To go back to the previous page, swipe from left to right, and do the reverse for going forward. The difference with Chrome is you don't have to scroll down the page and wait for the buttons to disappear the way you do with Safari. Chrome lets you swipe regardless of where you are on the page.

Chrome 44 for iOS is available now in the App Store.

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