A new commit pushed to the Chromium Gerrit and related to Chrome for mobile devices may indicate that Google plans to compete directly with the “touchless” cloud-based mobile platform KaiOS, based on associated images caught by 9to5Google.
The images, showing the UI of the new Chrome variant, have since been taken down but show at least one glaring indicator in the form of an unmistakeable Android 8.1 Oreo system notification icon in the status bar.
A touchless version of Chrome was previously spotted in the commits back in March, with plenty of speculation that might be linked to a new version of Android that didn’t utilize a touchscreen.
At the time, the new browser also appeared to be intrinsically linked to Google’s partnership with KaiOS last year, a rapidly growing cloud-based mobile competitor that’s taking market share in emerging markets such as India.
The snapshots are nearly identical with the only real difference being that one shows a list of articles on the standard cards seen on a Chrome “New Tab” window. The real highlight is a new zoomed-in UI that features a contextually-relevant and changeable label — shown as “All Apps” in the screenshot — that informs the user of what they’re currently ‘hovering’ over.
More plainly, that provides an indicator for which icon, link, or element the user is getting ready to click.
Are there things other than touchless Android this could point to?
Google could stand to regain its footing after being knocked off balance by KaiOS in India. Yet another theory could be that Google is using its own OS as a way to kick off development for the cloud-heavy platform KaiOS platform. The appearance of an Oreo icon in touchless Chrome could be a confirmation of either scenario or it could point to something else entirely.
Over the past several months, another area of focus for the search giant has been in making its accessibility features perform better. Smartphones have invariably gotten larger over the years but screen readers and other current methods for performing input actions haven’t necessarily gotten better to such a degree as to render a touchless interface pointless.
It may be the case that Google is looking to leverage its work on KaiOS as a foundation for touchless interactions on its own OS within the context of accessibility and either wired or wireless hardware switches. Those devices can be anything from dedicated accessories to keyboards and other physical buttons or toggles that are intended to help users access features more easily.
Coupled with Google’s decision to open up inputs for its upcoming Chromium-based gaming platform Stadia to work with any console’s controllers, now would be the perfect time to begin tweaking the UI from the ground up for a better accessibility mode.
Google I/O 2019?
Google is expected to make several large hardware announcements at its annual I/O Developers Conference in early May. The search giant ordinarily reserves hardware announcements for a dedicated event toward the end of the year but there may be as much excitement surrounding an even more accessible Android than Chrome — and the latter of those would be a software announcement without the need to announce new hardware.
If Google is working on a new version of Android or Chrome that’s meant to leverage even more budget-friendly hardware, it may not be unreasonable to presume there will be some indication of that at the event.