Saturday , December 15 2018
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In-app browsers are annoying and mostly useless

I have a pet peeve. In the past couple of years, it’s become increasingly common for apps to use built-in browsers rather than directing you to Chrome, Safari, or your browser of choice when you open a link. This is annoying at best, and counterproductive at worst – and it should stop being the default behavior for most apps that do so.

Note: This largely applies to both Android and iOS, but since I use Android 99% of the time, that’s the perspective I’m writing from.

I do a lot of work on my phone. I research pages, draft articles, compose emails, send messages, whathaveyou. Half of that work happens in a browser (Chrome), the other within apps.

When the two start to mix, things get messy.

Google itself is one of the worst offenders. Say I’m reading through my Gmail inbox, or searching for something on the Google app. The default behavior for both of these apps is to open links in a browser built into the app. In this case, it’s technically a Chrome Custom Tab, which carries over many of Chrome’s features and lets you switch over to Chrome quickly if you need to. But it’s still more annoying than simply, you know, opening the link in Chrome.

For reference, Chrome Custom Tabs look something like this:

It’s all fine and dandy if I only ever open a link for a quick, one-stop perusal. But often, opening a link means I’ll be doing further research, or at least spend some time browsing. If someone sends me a Wikipedia article, for instance, chances are it’s going to send me down a tab-tastic research rabbit hole.

Problem is, you can’t open multiple tabs within an in-app browser. You can’t type in a new URL either. You can’t go back and to read another email without losing your place or any information you’ve filled out. The same goes if you accidentally close the site.

If you want to do anything other than the most basic browsing, you’ll have to tap the menu button and then ‘Open in Chrome,’ which adds two unnecessary taps. Thankfully, most apps let you disable the feature altogether (it’s usually buried somewhere in the settings).

It gets worse in apps like Facebook, which don’t use Chrome Custom Tabs, but instead implement their own interface. Your bookmarks won’t carry over to your browsers. Your login information isn’t saved on websites. You miss out on common features like ‘find in page’ or ‘open desktop site.’ And sometimes web pages don’t even load properly.