Google today launched the Android WebView beta channel. To participate, developers are asked to join the Google+ community and sign up for the testing program before they can download the beta from Google Play.
Android’s WebView is used for embedding a web page in an app and for displaying HTML content in general. If you’ve ever seen an Android app that’s essentially a website wrapped up in some extra code, or an app that opens up web content without launching a browser, WebView is behind it all. Developers can also build whole browsers for Android using WebView.
In earlier versions of Android, WebView is based on the old stock Android WebKit browser. In Android 4.4 KitKat, WebView became powered by Chromium, and in Android 5.0 Lollipop, Google made it possible to update WebView independently of the Android platform, just like an app.
In fact, WebView has often been in the news for this exact reason: Google can’t easily update it in older versions of Android, leaving security holes unpatched because carriers and device manufacturers control Android updates. The company has been working to make this a problem of the past, but it will take quite some time before that happens, given the state of new Android version adoption.
It follows that the next step should be a beta channel where Google can test improvements to WebView before rolling them out to everyone. Android developers can give the company feedback, based on what they are seeing in their own apps that use WebView, as well as based on an APIs they want to try. This has been a long time coming.
Google says the first WebView beta is based on Chrome 40, which arrived last month. This would suggest WebView will be a few steps behind the Chrome release cycle, but given that Google’s browser is updated every six weeks, it should stay relatively current.