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Lollipop unwrapped: Chromium WebView will update via Google Play

Speedier updates, and more Google control for Android

Android 5.0, codenamed Lollipop, has introduced a key change to the WebView component, used by app developers to display HTML 5 content within their apps, making new features more readily available.

WebView — based on the open source Chromium project (Chrome without the proprietary bits) — will now be updateable via Google's Play store, according to a recent post.

This means that when Google updates the web browser engine, new features will be available to app developers without having to wait for operators to make an OS update available.

Some apps are based entirely on WebView, such as those built with Apache Cordova or Adobe PhoneGap, a tool which wraps HTML and JavaScript code into an app you can deploy to Android, iOS, Windows Phone, or numerous other platforms.

WebView has been based on Chromium since Android 4.4 (“KitKat”) but the ability to update through Play is new. The move gives Google more control over a key operating system component, though the code remains open source, unlike the ever-expanding Google Play Services which includes Google APIs for authentication, ads, Maps, Drive cloud storage, Google Fit, and more.

The initial WebView component in Android 5.0 is based on Chromium M37. New features include WebRTC (Real Time Communication), WebAudio and WebGL. It also supports Google’s new Material Design “visual language”, a new user interface design system. Material Design is implemented in the browser, and in the WebView, via a framework called Polymer.

Polymer will continue to evolve after the release of Android 5, so the ability to rely on updates to the WebView will be important for app developers who want their apps to have the correct look and feel.

Another reason why WebView is critical is that Google currently maintains two operating systems, Android for mobile, and Chrome OS for locked-down notebooks that run everything in the browser. Creating apps for both Android and Chrome OS is easier if the WebView is kept up to date — though since Android 5.0 is not yet released, and many devices will never be updated, the impact of a change like this is long-term.

The first full release of Android 5.0 will be on Google’s own Nexus 9 tablet, which is scheduled to ship by 3 November.®

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