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Google: 70% data savings on mobile Chrome

Upgrades its web efficiency tools, removing images for Android Chrome users when they hit slow connections

Data saving browsers used to be the preserve of low end handsets and mobile connections, and helped make the fortunes of companies like Opera and Novarra (later part of Nokia). But now even the most expensive smartphones and LTE-A connections still struggle to handle the floods of mobile data efficiently, and without racking up a massive bill. This is proving a lifeline for Opera, whose Max data compression app is targeting 100m Android handsets. But it will be squeezed by Google itself, which is extending its own efficiency features for the Android version of Chrome.

Google says the latest addition to its Chrome mobile browser, Data Saver, can cut data consumption on the web by as much as 70%. It does this mainly by leaving out images when a page is loaded, unless the user taps the screen to display one or more pictures.

A year ago, Google introduced the first data compression capabilities for mobile Chrome, promising savings of up to 50% when switched on by users if they hit a slow connection. This worked by routing HTTP traffic through a Google proxy server, rather than removing images altogether. The new feature activates itself automatically when it detects a slow connection (as defined by the operator or device vendor).

Such capabilities are important to operators as well as to consumers conscious of their monthly data allowances. Carriers in emerging markets – especially those which have not deployed 4G, or even 3G, in all areas – have to pull off the difficult trick of delivering a pleasing experience to consumers who are just as data-hungry as their counterparts elsewhere, but have only a few dollars a month to spend. Data Saver will initially be launched in India and Indonesia and in the former country, is likely to be an important way to make Google’s ailing Android One platform more attractive to carriers.

However, it will not be confined to emerging markets and will be rolled out to additional countries “in the coming months”, said Google. In advanced mobile economies, the balancing act is similar, even if the dollars are more plentiful, especially as the size of affordable data buckets becomes a major factor in competitive edge. Analysts have been questioning, for instance, whether T-Mobile USA can invest in sufficient capacity to support its new ‘Binge On’ proposition, part of its Uncarrier program, which is attracting budget-conscious subscribers but may also put severe strain on its networks very soon.

Google did not say whether it would bring Data Saver to the iOS version of Chrome. The browser is the most widely used in the world on PC and mobile platforms, giving it an advantage over the more established Opera Max technology. However, the Norwegian firm’s Mini browser and Max compression app are important to its ongoing strategic review and continue to extend its reach among carriers and OEMs. Last month, it announced deals with 14 Android handset makers, to embed Opera Max in their devices.

Big names such as Samsung and Xiaomi are on the list and will pre-install the software on new devices, which should mean it will be present on 100m Android handsets by 2017, Opera said. Other partners include Acer, Hisense and Oppo, plus some of the regional brands which are becoming increasingly important in emerging economies, such as Cherry Mobile, Evercoss, Fly, Micromax, Mobiistar, Prestigio, Symphony, Tecno and TWZ.

Opera Max extends the company’s cloud-side compression technology beyond the Opera Mini browser and allows it to run as an app. It already has some strategic partnerships, notably with MediaTek, but it is now poised for greater scale than the 5m downloads it has seen from the Google Play store, because it will become a default option in many devices.

In addition to compressing video and other data by up to 50% and making more efficient use of handset resources, the app allows users to monitor their data usage through its dashboard, issuing alerts and advising on how to change settings to lower fees. This it the feature which means it gets into higher end smartphones – for users eager to monitor their 4G data consumption – not just the entry level models colonized by Opera Mini. Opera Max can also block apps which consume data in the background (though not ads, given the important of its mobile ad network to the Opera business model).

 

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