Google recently announced the start of its Chrome OS 72 rollout, optimizing the browser with a new tablet mode and delivering a new security fix as well as storage enhancements. Users on Windows and other platforms began seeing the update to version 72 approximately two weeks ago but some of the biggest changes apply specifically to Chrome OS.
As expected, the biggest alteration for Chrome OS on the user-facing side will be seen by those using a dedicated Chrome OS tablet or other Chrome OS gadget in tablet mode. Users will be able to select a 'request tablet mode' option similarly to how a desktop site is requested in the mobile version of Chrome, through the browser's three-dot menu. That will optimize white space on the page and scale up elements as well as implementing other touch-first options.
The big changes don't stop with touch-optimization
Beyond the new touchscreen-first optimizations and security, there are no fewer than three other changes that the average user is likely to notice. The first of those is the addition of Picture-in-Picture for websites in Chrome. That doesn't seem to apply to applications just yet but should make media playback on windows that have been minimized or navigated away from act more like Android. Namely, users should be able to continue watching or controlling playback of media from a small window that floats above the rest of the UI.
Android Apps are getting some serious new features too. One long-awaited inclusion is the ability for Android apps to access and use external storage, including the addition of the MediaStore APIs.
App shortcuts, found by long-pressing an app icon in the launcher or right-clicking the same, can now be searched in the launcher itself with the search bar. App shortcuts include actions such as the ability to generate a new email from the Gmail app directly from the icon itself rather than having to open the app first.
Files saved via Google Drive's Backup and Sync will be available in the Files application going forward too. Those will be found under the My Drive/Computers directory.
Google has taken Chrome OS's native printing a step forward in Chrome 72 as well, including the addition of policies that allow management of print job attributes. That means users can now access and switch up between straightforward single-side printing or duplex printing as well as controlling whether the print job is completed in black and white or color.
Last but not least, coinciding with touch optimizations, Google has added a new page to the ChromeVox screen reader tutorial, outlining how touch gestures work in the tool. A new setting has been added to the ChromeVox options that will allow the screen reader to read out anything that's under the mouse cursor.
Picture-in-Picture will get even better soon
Despite the relatively big changes brought in Chrome OS 72, the next iteration could be even bigger news for users. In addition to speculation that a dark mode will be added, currently being tested in the Canary Channel of the OS, a new tab grouping feature has also been hinted at. That would allow users to group tabs together into categories.
Support for third-party keyboards with multimedia buttons is gearing up to be added in that version too, alongside an automatic Picture-in-Picture mode that will effectively bring that functionality across all media playback. Users will also see the ability to skip advertisements appearing in those minimized Picture-in-Picture windows.